By PETE YOST, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department is opposing changes in Florida voting procedures and says it wants a trial in the dispute, a move that could impact the state's August primary elections.
In court papers filed late Friday night, Florida officials say they strongly oppose having a trial and noted that the federal court hearing the case in the District of Columbia wants sufficient time to issue a decision before the August primaries. The state is seeking court approval for changes that shorten the time for voter registration groups turning in registration forms to 48 hours and that narrow the time frame for early voting to 10 days before election day.
Florida says the court in Washington can decide the case on the basis of information already submitted in the lawsuit.
The state sued the federal government last August, seeking a ruling that the changes in state law comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Five Florida counties are covered by the Voting Rights Act.
Section 5 of the act requires all or parts of 16 states to be cleared by the Justice Department's civil rights division or a federal court before carrying out changes in elections. The states are mostly in the South and all have a history of discriminating against blacks, American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaskan Natives or Hispanics.
The Florida counties covered by Section 5 are Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe.
"As to the third-party voter registration and early voting changes ... the United States' position is that the state has not met its burden ... that the two sets of proposed voting changes are entitled to preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act," the Justice Department said in its court filing.
In the joint court filing with the federal government, the state said it "strongly opposes the United States' attempt to extend this action well into the summer. The court was quite clear that it wanted to have this case fully submitted for its review by early May, because this would allow the court sufficient time to issue a decision before the August primaries."
In a separate case in federal court in Tallahassee, Fla., civic groups say Florida's new Republican-backed election law unconstitutionally restricts voter-registration drives.
The Florida League of Women Voters, the Rock the Vote group that focuses on young people, and the Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund say the election law infringes their First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of association.
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