Warning of a return to the days of "Jim Crow," a Florida voter rights group has sued state officials to halt parts of an election reform law enacted in the wake of the disputed presidential recount.
In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, the Florida Voters League Inc. objected to a list of voter responsibilities that will be posted at polling places along with a list of voter rights. The signs amount to literacy tests and would discourage minority voters, the group argued.
"We believe that the voter responsibilities section of that act is a step so far backward as to be a literacy test," said JoNel Newman, a lawyer with the Florida Equal Voting Rights Project, a project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
The suit was filed on behalf of Charles Major Jr., a black voting-rights activist from Key West. It also targets new procedures for removing ex-felons from voter rolls, saying the burden of determining which voters are ex-felons falls to county officials, who would force voters to prove their eligibility.
Florida's voting system endured intense scrutiny after a razor-thin margin forced a recount and gave George W. Bush the presidency over Al Gore. Last spring, Florida lawmakers overhauled the state's election laws.
David Host, a Harris spokesman, said only one of the three provisions at issue was part of Harris' original reform legislation.
"Nevertheless, as chief elections officer, she will vigorously carry out her duty to defend all of these provisions," Host said.
Sawyer declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit but noted that the elections reform package has yet to be approved by the U.S. Justice Department.
Shortly before last year's contentious election, Florida purged voter rolls of felons and mistakenly removed people whose right to vote should have remained intact.
The new election law, the lawsuit contends, "codifies reliance on a certified mail notification procedure that places the burden for remaining on the voter rolls on the voter."
The new law provides for provisional ballots if a person's name is mistakenly removed.
But, the lawsuit complains, "if an individual is erroneously purged from the voter rolls but casts a provisional ballot because his or her name does not appear on the voter list, and fails to resolve the question of eligibility, that provisional ballot will not be counted because the records of the Supervisor of Elections will continue to reflect that the voter is ineligible."
Also under the law, voters are also responsible to "Know how to operate voting equipment properly," "Report problems or violations of election law," "Ask questions when confused," "Check his or her completed ballot for accuracy."
"The statement of responsibilities makes no mention of the fact that failure to do so is not a bar to voting," the lawsuit contends. In the 2000 vote, Democrats blamed problems with some voting machines and flaws with certain ballots for votes that Gore allegedly lost.
In January, civil rights groups including the NAACP filed a separate lawsuit charging that black voters were disenfranchised in November's elections by institutionalized racism. The case is pnding.
Florida was among several Southern states that enacted "Jim Crow" laws, legalizing segregation of public schools, restrooms, transportation and beaches and disenfranchising black voters.
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