Florida is a “Closed Primary” state, meaning only voters who are registered members of the political party holding a primary election can vote in that primary election. Some cities, counties, and special districts, however, are also using the Presidential Preference Primary date to conduct other elections, such as referendums and other ballot measures. For example, the City of Flagler Beach scheduled their municipal elections in conjunction with the January 31st primary and the City of Temple Terrace is holding a referendum on tax exemptions for economic development. Check your local Supervisor of Elections website to see if you are eligible to vote on an issue on January 31st even if your political party is not holding a primary.
In a letter this week, posted online by the Tampa Tribune, Sen. Dick Durbin responded to Sen. Bill Nelson’s request that the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights investigate HB1355 by agreeing with Nelson’s concerns and stating he will conduct a field hearing in Florida. No date for the hearing has been set yet, but the ACLU, according to the Orlando Sentinel, is requesting Durbin hold three hearings before the Florida Presidential Primary in January.
A surprising development in the preclearance saga of HB1355, the State has filed a First Amended Complaint seeking to have the court declare the preclearance obligation in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. To recap my past posts on this topic: under the Federal Voting Rights Act, the State of Florida has to “preclear” changes to election laws. Preclearance can be done throught the U.S. Department of Justice or by filing suit in D.C. The State initially sought U.S. DOJ approval, but then withdrew several of the proposed election law changes and filed suit in D.C.
The State now alleges that preclearance itself is “not a rational, congruent, or proportional means of enforcing the Fourteeth and/or Fifteenth Amendments” to the U.S. Constitution. The Secretary of State has published a press release contesting the 1972 process that placed Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe counties under the preclearance requirement, claiming it does not reflect current conditions. The Secretary does not appear to address the fact that there is a process in the Voting Rights Act that would allow a county to end the preclearance obligation. That process is certainly not an easy one, as it also requires a local government to file suit in D.C.
Here’s the quote from the Secretary of State’s news release: “The purpose of filing in the federal district court is to ensure that the changes to Florida’s election law are judged on their merits by eliminating the risk of a ruling impacted by outside influence,… [s]ince the passage of HB 1355, we have seen misinformation surrounding the bill increase. By asking a court to rule on certain aspects of the bill, we are assured of a neutral evaluation based on the facts.” Swift reaction from the bill’s detractors is being reported in an AP story on the Tampa Tribune site, and in a Sun-Sentinel story. It appears from the Secretary of State’s news release that the USDOJ had issues with the HB1355 provisions related to early voting, 3rd party voter registration, petition signature verification, and address changes at the polls.
The St. Pete Times is reporting on a protest yesterday in Tampa related to HB1355. Meanwhile, the AP & Miami Herald are reporting on a hearing today related to a libertarian group challenging Florida’s political committee regulatory structure. The plaintiffs’ counsel has a summary of their suit on their website. It appears to be one of many First Amendment/election law cases inspired by recent Supreme Court decisions.
Confused about where to vote? – look it up online at http://registration.elections.myflorida.com/
The Florida Governor vetoed HB1207, a recently passed election law bill.
According to the bill analysis posted online, the bill would have reenacted and amended provisions related to electioneering communications and electioneering communication organizations (ECOs), revised provisions relating to use of local government funds for political advertising, and authorized the leader of each political party conference of the state House of Representatives and Senate to establish a separate, affiliated party committee to support the election of candidates of the leader’s political party. Here are links to coverage in the Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post, St. Pete Times, and Orlando Sentinel.
A large number of interesting pieces on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Here’s a few interesting ones: Washington Post The Hill NYTimes Washington Times While the majority of the Supreme Court did not rule on the constitutionality of Section 5, it did open the door to more political entities having the ability to seek to opt out of the preclearance review. Right now, in Florida, all government entities in Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe Counties are subject to having any election procedure changes precleared by the Justice Dept. or the courts, including such things as polling site changes. This also causes all statewide election procedure changes to need preclearance as well. The practical effect of this ruling, however, is probably small as the cost and political ramifications of filing such an action in federal court in D.C. to request an opt out is probably beyond most local governments. In his dissent, Justice Thomas argued that this preclearance requirement has succeeded and therefore now lacks a constitutional basis for its continued existence. The rest of the Court were not willing to go down that path yet, but it will interesting to see if any changes to the VRA are looked at in Congress over the next year to deal with the concerns the Court raised.
Numerous reports, including this one in the Miami Herald, indicate that leader of the Florida House of Representatives does not think there is enough time left in this session for the proposed elections bills. With the legislative session looking at either an extension or a special session this year, we’ll see what happens.