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Sen. Nelson asks U.S. attorney general to look into new voting restrictions

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is taking on the state’s controversial new voting rules with full force. Days after requesting a congressional hearing on the law, Nelson has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that the Justice Department launch an investigation into whether the “new state voting laws resulted from collusion or an orchestrated effort to limit voter turnout.” In his letter to Holder, Nelson writes:

I have asked Sen. Durbin’s subcommittee to conduct a congressional investigation to see if Florida’s new election law is linked to the efforts to pass similar voting restrictions in 14 states so far this year.

The changes mostly involve new ID requirements, shorter early voting periods and new restrictions on third parties who sign up new voters. In Florida, the League of Women Voters considered these restrictions so egregious it abandoned its registration drives after 72 years, and teachers there are running afoul of the law for the way they sign up students to vote.

According to the first comprehensive study of the laws’ impact, just completed by The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, these voting changes could make it significantly harder for more than five-million eligible voters in numerous states to cast their ballots in 2012. Both The Washington Post and New York Times have reported such measures could keep young people and minorities away from the polls.

If the Brennan Center is correct in its assessment that five-million voters could be disenfranchised that would be more than the all the registered voters in any of 42 states in this country.

In short, indications are mounting of an effort to suppress the national vote. In Florida, the Justice Department continues reviewing how the voting law changes would affect certain voters, particularly minorities, pursuant to the Voting Rights Act. I believe more should be done.

The Justice Department should investigate whether new state voting laws resulted from collusion or an orchestrated effort to limit voter turnout. The Department needs to determine whether or not there was broad-based motivation to suppress the vote – and, if so, whether any laws were violated.

Opponents of Florida’s law have said the rules are aimed at suppressing the minority and youth vote for the upcoming 2012 election. The current instances of teachers getting in trouble for registering voters has been used as an example of how the youth vote might be particularly affected by the laws.

Groups like the Miami-based LGBT-rights group, SAVE Dade, have had to stop registering voters because of the new limitations on third-party voter registration drives and the potential financial penalties. The group says it simply could not afford to register voters — even after almost two decades of providing that service.

Florida is currently waiting for a ruling on controversial aspects of the law from a court in the District of Columbia.

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