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Bill Nelson calls on the Justice Department to probe new voting laws

Are new voting laws passed by Florida and more than a dozen other states the result of a coordinated effort to suppress voter turnout among millions of seniors, young people and minorities in next year’s presidential election? That's what U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is asking the Justice Department to investigate.

New voting laws signed in May by Gov. Rick Scott curtail the number of early voting days in Florida from 15 to eight. The law also makes it more difficult for third-party groups, such as the League of Women voters, to register voters. 

Nelson on Thursday asked Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter to investigate "whether new state voting laws resulted from collusion or an orchestrated effort to limit voter turnout. The Department needs to determine whether or not there was broad-based motivation to suppress the vote -- and, if so, whether any laws were violated."   

Nelson earlier this week in a speech on the Senate floor pointed out that the new, stricter voting laws are in states that make up two-thirds of the 270 electoral votes need to win the presidency. That includes Florida, where his own re-election -- and the presidential contest -- will mark the first major test of the new laws in Florida.

He already is getting a hand from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which in October launched an effort in Florida to strike back at whey they say are oppressive voting laws designed by Republicans to suppress turnout. 

Among the DSCC's chief jobs this election cycle will be working to keep the seat held by Nelson out of GOP hands. The committee's campaign, called the "2012 Election Protection Project," uses online advertisements on Twitter, Facebook, and Google "to both raise awareness and fight back against partisan attacks on voting rights in Florida and elsewhere," the committee said last month. The  DSCC will also be purchasing advertisements on mobile devices.

It's part of a campaign that includes an online  "Election Protection Project Action Center." Potential voters will be able to register online on the site, the DSCC said.

Nelson in September testified at a hearing about voter access in front of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, which looked at laws the chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said were part of "coordinated, well-funded effort" to suppress voting. Durbin, who largely panned new voting laws in some Republican-led states, said he'd sent letters to the governors of Florida, Wisconsin and Tennessee about their new laws. This week, Nelson asked Durbin to hold field hearings on the matter in all or some of the 14 states with the new voting laws. 

Nelson has been particularly critical of changes to early voting that no longer allow people to vote on the Sunday before elections –- a prime time for many African-American voters who would cast their ballots following church services.