-By Marc Caputo
May 28, 2011- The elections supervisor in Rick Scott's home county refuses to recognize a new law the governor signed out of concerns that the U.S. Department of Justice hasn't decided whether it violates a law protecting minority voters.
In a letter to the state's elections division, Collier County Elections Supervisor Jennifer Edwards pointed out that her county is one of five in Florida that needs Justice Department pre-approval "or preclearance" under the 1965 Voting Rights Act before it makes any voting changes.
"Since assuming office in 2000, it has been my practice to meticulously comply with the requirements," she wrote May 21. "The purpose of this letter is to inform you that due to our 'covered' status, I will not implement any changes resulting from the Governor's signing of CS/CS/HB 1355 until we receive notification that the bill has been precleared by the U.S. Department of Justice."
Supervisors from the other four Florida counties — Hillsborough, Monroe, Hendry and Hardee — joined Edwards in her opposition. At the same time, the state was planning to inform the five counties that they wouldn't have to comply until the Justice Department gives its tentative "preclearance" approval, said Chris Cate, a Florida Division of Elections spokesman.
"We suggested the counties requiring preclearance wait to implement the new elections law until the DOJ has given their approval," Cate said.
Edwards couldn't be reached Friday, but her office said she felt compelled to write the letter because the state's elections division was rapidly pushing ahead with the new law, specifically by requiring all 67 elections supervisors to begin daily reporting of new voter registrations submitted by third-party groups.
The new law cracks down on third-party voter-registration groups activities, makes Election Day polling-precinct changes tougher for voters and reduces the number of days early voting is available.
Republicans say the law is designed to crack down on fraud and stop groups like the now-defunct ACORN from conducting massive controversial voter-registration drives.
But Democrats and advocates for minorities say the provisions of the new law could disproportionately hurt black and Hispanic voters.
"Minorities are disproportionately affected by this crackdown," said Denise Lieberman, senior attorney with the Advancement Project voting-rights group. "Minorities tend to be disproportionately more likely to change their address, to use early voting and to register to vote with third-party registration groups."