Senator Nelson announces Senate hearing on Florida voting law

Critics of the new law are hoping that parts of the new legislation could be overturned by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The new law also bans early voting on Sundays, which Nelson and others say discriminates against blacks, and cites voting information from the 2008 general election to back up that view.

In the 2008 presidential election, nearly 54 percent of Florida's black voters cast their ballots at early-voting sites; another 13.6 percent submitted absentee ballots, the Florida Democratic Party reported.

A study by Michael McDonald, an assistant professor of government and politics at George Mason University, said that on the Sunday before the election, black voters comprised 32 percent — almost a third — of the statewide turnout.

"Guess who votes and has now under the last decade in record numbers been going to the polls to vote after church on the Sunday before the Tuesday election?" the senator asked rhetorically while addressing reporters in his local district office inside the federal building in downtown Tampa.

This past weekend there was a protest in Tampa organized in part against the new voting laws.

The new Florida election laws no doubt would hurt Democrats more, considering that opportunities for blacks and college students to vote would be limited. College students frequently change addresses, but unless they notify their supervisor of elections in advance of the election date that they have moved to a different county, they could not cast a regular ballot, only a provisional one.

"This is the kind of nonsense that is going on. It's a blatant, bald attempt to suppress the votes of certain parts of the population," Nelson complained. "I think all of us this needs to come out further," he added, citing the need for the hearing.

Nelson also said that those organizing the hearing hope to seek testimony from state lawmakers who were behind the bill, including Governor Scott. Whether they would appear or not remains to be seen. Nelson said he didn't believe they would be subpoenaed.

The senator added that there was the "appearance of an organized effort" on the part of Republican-led legislatures to pass such election bills.

Nelson will be up for re-election himself next November. CL asked him if he felt the laws as passed could hurt his chances against his yet unknown Republican challenger. He responded, "If the people are not able to express their will… then I think the whole system of fairness and the Constitution is being thwarted."

  • Bill Nelson will be on the ballot next November

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Rights will come to Tampa for a public hearing on January 27 on the controversial new election laws passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Governor Rick Scott earlier this year. The hearing will be led by Illinois's Dick Durban, the second highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate.

The announcement was made Monday morning by Florida Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who said the new legislation "arguably suppresses voters' rights."

Those laws include reducing the amount of early voting days from 14 to 8, as well as requiring that third party groups that register voters must submit those applications within 48 hours (the previous law allowed up to 10 days). And it requires voters who want to give a new county address at the polls to vote by provisional ballot, which is less likely to be counted than a regularly cast ballot.

Florida legislators who supported the vote said their goal was mainly to combat voter fraud, though in fact there have been very few such charges proven in Florida over the years.

Democrats beyond Florida have been complaining about similar election laws in 13 other states, as has the NAACP, which released a report last week that claimed new voting laws at the state level would disenfranchise minority voters.

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