Today, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) called on House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) to hold hearings examining the recent wave of state legislative efforts aimed at impeding and disenfranchising voters - including the radical overhaul of voting rights in Florida recently signed into law by Republican Governor Rick Scott. A recent New York Times article reports that many of these laws are the result of politically motivated efforts in Republican-dominated state legislatures to reduce voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election.
"Stoking fear using the nonexistent threat of mass voter fraud is now the right-wing talking point of choice for those passing laws to suppress minority, student, and traditionally Democratic voters," said Congressman Ted Deutch. "If Republicans were truly concerned with the integrity of our elections systems, they could pass reforms to make vote counts more accountable, electronic machines more secure, and state registration databases more accurate. While the most egregious threat to voting rights has been passed in Florida, there is a disturbing trend of new state laws across America that aim to reduce turnout, and it is up to the Judiciary Committee to ensure that such measures are not encroaching on the federal voting rights afforded to all Americans by our Constitution."
Despite the charges by Republican state legislators that Florida has a systemic voter fraud problem, there have been only 31 complaints of fraud and three arrests made since 2008. Poll workers take an active role in preventing fraud by accessing a state database that can confirm voters' identities, registration, and voter history.
H.B. 1355 contains unprecedented restrictions of the voting rights of Floridians. It all but eradicates voter registration drives conducted by volunteer-based, third party groups like the League of Women Voters, the Boy Scouts of America, and the NAACP. The legislation will also force dozens of legitimate voters to cast provisional ballots by eliminating a decades-old law enabling Floridians with proper identification to update their names and addresses at the polls due to a military family move, marriage, or divorce. H.B. 1355 also slashes the early voting period from 14 days to 6, posing a special challenge to working Floridians and elderly voters who cannot wait on the long lines of Election Day. Additionally, the bill places new restrictions on the validity of absentee ballots, determining them illegal if signatures do not closely enough match those on older state documents. This provision is especially troubling for elderly and disabled Floridians whose handwriting may suffer due to stroke, Parkinson's disease, or other disorders.
Following the passage of H.B. 1355, Congressman Deutch and other members of the Florida Democratic congressional delegation wrote the U.S. Department of Justice requesting a review for possible violations of the Voting Rights Act.