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Court rejects state's request to expedite voting law challenge

A panel of federal judges today rejected a request by Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Kurt Browning to expedite a ruling on the lawsuit challenging the state's changes to its voting laws. Download Fla v USA 55 Order on motion to expedite

"We're disappointed that the court could not accommodate our schedule," said Browning's spokesman, Chris Cate. "We look forward to the opportunity for making the case than none of Florida's election laws are discriminatory."
The reason the state is pressing the federal government for a quick resolution is the accelerated political calendar. A panel of legislative appointees has set Florida's presidential preference primary for Jan. 31, 2012, but the last day that people can register to vote to be able to cast ballots in that election will be Jan. 3, 2012.
If the legal issues surrounding the election law rewrite aren't settled by then, the state will be in the awkward position of not having major changes to the laws pre-cleared as they affect five counties: Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe.

From the ACLU's press release:

A decision this afternoon by the Federal District in the District of Columbia denied the state’s request for an expedited schedule to hear whether the state’s Voter Suppression Act complies with the federal Voting Rights Act and can be implemented statewide.  The Voter Suppression Act is already being implemented in 62 of Florida’s 67 counties.

In denying the state’s request for a quick hearing and decision, the federal three judge panel cited the state’s own repeated delays in getting the law approved and concurrent decision to move forward the Presidential Primary date to January. The Court cited the state’s three week delay in seeking approval of the changes from the Department of Justice, failure of the state to seek expedited review, removing provisions of the law from DOJ review after 50 of the 60 days had expired, filing in federal court, and amending their filing to challenge the Voting Rights Act as examples that any time pressure for a decision was caused by the state itself. 

Moreover, the Court found that the expedited schedule proposed by the state would not afford the federal government and interveners including the ACLU enough time to present their case. Because Governor Scott and Secretary of State Browning moved ahead to implement the law without waiting for federal approval, one major result of the ruling is that Florida will conduct its January Presidential Preference Primary with two sets of election laws in the state. 

Below is a statement from Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida on today’s decision:  “The Court was right to say this is a mess created by the Governor and the Legislature. In denying their request for a ‘drive by hearing’, the Court essentially said that the state’s failure to take this issue seriously until recently is no one’s fault but their own.

  “Thanks to Governor Scott and Secretary Browning, Florida is in position yet again to turn our elections into a mockery by conducting an important, nationally significant election under two different sets of election rules depending on where you live.  Under the system which will be in place now, a voter in Pinellas will vote under different rules than a voter across the bridge in Hillsborough.

“The issues at stake in this case are whether the state will be able to stack the deck and suppress the vote for 2012 or whether the state will be forced to follow federal law.  “This Voter Suppression Act needs a full, complete hearing to see whether it’s legal and complies with federal law. We’ve said all along that it’s not legal and that it is designed to suppress the votes of racial and language minorities in Florida.”