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U.S.: Florida fails 'burden of proof' on vote law changes

The U.S. Department of Justice claims in court papers that the state of Florida "has not met its burden of proof" that three changes to the election laws protect minorities from discrimination in Hillsborough, Monroe and three other counties.

The assertion could complicate efforts by Gov. Rick Scott's administration to secure federal approval of three changes that reduce early voting days, expand the use of provisional ballots and impose new restrictions on third-party voter registration groups.  

The feds' assertion is contained in a report filed with a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., which has jurisdiction in the case. The state has asked the panel to approve disputed election law changes to ensure that they do not discriminate against minority voters in five counties, a process known as "pre-clearance." The other three affected counties are Collier, Hardee and Hendry.

"We think it's very significant that the Department of Justice has taken that position on all three of the remaining changes, both on purpose and on effect," said Julie Ebenstein, policy and advocacy counsel at ACLU Florida and one of several intervening groups in the case.  "Since DOJ is normally the body that does administrative pre-clearance, we're encouraged that they think Florida hasn't met its burden."

A spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner said the state remains confident the changes will be approved by the courts. "We continue to feel that the other three sections are non-discriminatory," Chris Cate said. "That's why we're in federal court -- to prove that -- and we feel we will."

-- Steve Bousquet