Scott considers voting reform as Feds investigate Florida

By Christie Zizo, Web Editor
Last Updated: Wednesday, December 19, 2012, 7:28 PM EST

New details emerged Wednesday on several fronts of the debate over Florida's election issues last month, and whether a controversial 2011 voting law contributed to them.

The Justice Department took a step toward a formal investigation into claims that Florida is suppressing minority voters, while Sen. Bill Nelson testified about new details in the Senate's investigation.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott wants to look into expanding Florida's early voting period.

FCRA: Law suppressed minority voters

A spokesman for the Florida Civil Rights Association said the Justice Dept. contacted FCRA leaders regarding a complaint they filed last month.

The complaint specifically talks about the decision by state lawmakers in 2011 to reduce the number of early voting days. The complaint also claimed that several counties had inadequate polling places during early voting and the general election in areas where blacks and hispanics voted.

FCRA said it provided Justice Dept. officials with specific incidents at polling places, including dates, times and locations.

"The focus of the investigation appears to be to determine whether Florida's voting system is so corrupt that last resort action has to be made to stop systemic, persistent  corruption that serves to suppress the votes of Blacks and Hispanics," said FCRA spokesperson Kyan Ware.

The case still needs to be presented to Attorney General Eric Holder before it goes forward.

Nelson: Lawyer for Republican Party wrote 2011 Voting Law

US Sen. Bill Nelson accused the Republican Party of targeting potential Democratic voters during testimony Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee is investigating voting problems during the 2012 Election.

In his testimony, Nelson, D-Florida, submitted a sworn deposition from Emmett "Bucky" Mitchell IV, a Tallahassee-based attorney for Tidewater Consulting, which is a lobbying group. He is also general counsel for the Republican Party of Florida.

In the deposition, Mitchell says that he wrote the original draft of the 2011 Voting Law at the request of the executive director of the party, Andy Palmer, and the directors of the house and senate campaigns.

Nelson said this is not the first time Mitchell's campaign has come up in a Florida election controversy.

"In 2000, he was at the center of the State of Florida’s efforts to purge possible felons from the voter rolls," Nelson testified. "That misguided effort led to thousands of eligible voters being turned away at the polls during the presidential election because their names were removed from voter rolls."

Several voting and civil rights groups sued the state over the 2011 law, claiming it suppressed voter rights. On top of reducing early voting hours, the law also made it difficult for third parties to register voters, and tightened the rules on allowing people who moved from another county to change their address at the polls.

Mitchell also worked with Republican House leaders to tweak the law. Mitchell said during the deposition that when the law started it was 15 pages long.

By the time the bill was passed, it was close to 100 pages long.

Scott: More early voting days, shorter ballots needed

Gov. Rick Scott says he was just complying with the 2011 law when he refused an emergency request to extend early voting hours. However -- he thinks early voting needs to be expanded.

In an interview with CNN Wednesday, Scott said also said the state needs to look at limiting the length of the ballot, and giving local election officials more flexibility with regard to the size of polling sites.

The election ballot was several pages long, partially because of several long constitutional amendments.

Scott signed the bill into law in 2011.

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Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.