Judge Thomas P. Crapps of the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings will issue a final ruling in two weeks, regarding implementation of a controversial new elections law, HB 1355, by the Legislature during the 2011 session and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. Crapps announced his intention after adjourning a hearing Friday, at about 2:15 p.m.
The disputed provisions of the law are:
- reduction of the days and times during which voters may vote early;
- stipulations that a voter who has moved from one county to another, and failed to alert his new elections supervisor of his move before Election Day, will only be permitted to submit a provisional ballot (which is counted toward the election only if the voter proves his eligibility within a couple of days after voting); and
- the imposition of allegedly onerous new burdens and restrictions on organizations dedicated to registering people to vote.
Republicans and the Scott administration insist the law is necessary in order to cut costs incurred by lengthy early voting periods and to prevent voter fraud.
The suit is being brought by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, R-Tampa, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Council of La Raza.
Technically, the present suit does not challenge the validity of HB 1355 itself, as the administrative courts do not have jurisdiction over such a question. Instead, what the plaintiffs are challenging is a directive issued by former Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning in February.
Joyner, the ACLU, and La Raza allege that the directive was an attempt by Browning to promulgate a rule, without the necessary rulemaking procedures, establishing an effective dual system of elections in violation of Floridas Uniformity Statute.
Sixty-two counties are implementing the new regulations, while five counties are precluded from doing so by the federal Voting Rights Act, which requires jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices to apply for preclearance from the United States attorney general. The contested regulations are still awaiting that approval.
Attorneys for the state of Florida argue that the directive from Browning is not a rule at all, but simply a summary of applicable state and federal law drawn up for the convenience of local supervisors of elections.
It is unclear what practical effect a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would have; even if Browning's directive is voided, HB 1355 itself independently directs county elections supervisors to implement the controversial provisions.
In an email to Sunshine State News, Attorney Mark Herron, who is litigating the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, said that, if Crapps rules in his favor, [t]he Department of State will not be able to rely on the statements in the directives.
Herron did not reply, before Friday evening, to follow-
up questions about the presumed continuing validity of HB 1355. Both during the hearing and in emails, Herron conceded, No matter what the result, there may be a need for additional litigation. Judge Crapps directed both parties to submit their proposed orders to him by Aug. 17; he said he would issue his own final order on Aug. 24.
Reach Eric Giunta at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.