TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — Gov. Rick Scott’s office and campaign are attacking as “blatantly political” a letter from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announcing that the Justice Department is monitoring changes to Florida’s election laws.
Holder wrote to Scott on July 21 expressing concerns about elections laws and procedures that “have restricted voter participation and limited access.”
Holder added he was “deeply disturbed” at the “barriers to voting” that have been added during Scott’s tenure and urged the governor to “re-evaluate laws and procedures that make it harder for citizens to register and to vote.”
John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, said in an email Friday that “this is a blatantly political letter.”
Tupps directed media inquiries to Scott’s gubernatorial campaign for additional comment.
In the letter, Holder described as “troubling” a 2013 directive from Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner that absentee ballots could only be collected at supervisor’s offices. Also, the letter pointed to Detzner’s rejection this year of a request to use the University of Florida’s student union as an early voting location, and a policy outlined in April by an assistant county attorney in Miami-Dade County that voters couldn’t use restrooms at polling sites in the South Florida county.
“Whether or not these changes would ultimately be found to violate specific federal laws, they represent a troubling series of efforts to limit citizens’ ability to exercise the franchise,” Holder wrote.
Holder also pointed to a controversial attempt to “purge” non-citizens from the voter rolls before the 2012 elections and to a 2011 law that reduced the length of the early-voting period. That law, which has since been altered, was blamed for helping create long lines at some polling places in 2012.
The Orlando Sentinel determined the law kept at least 201,000 Floridians from casting votes.
“I am pleased that last year you signed legislation that restored early voting days,” Holder wrote. “However, I have grave concerns that there remains a troubling pattern in your state of measures that make it more difficult, not easier, for Floridians to vote.”
A spokeswoman for Detzner deferred comment to Scott, noting the letter was addressed to him.
Scott’s campaign manager Melissa Sellers, in a statement Friday, said the White House is trying to bolster the efforts of Democratic challenger Charlie Crist.
“Attorney General Eric Holder’s letter is just more politics from President Obama — as the White House desperately tries to prop up the sagging campaign of their candidate, Charlie Crist,” Sellers said in her statement. “It isn’t surprising that the same President who used the IRS to persecute his political opponents is now using his attorney general to try the same tactic.”
Sellers pointed in her statement toward Holder’s Justice Department pre-clearing the voting changes in 2011 and to the 2013 law that corrected “inefficiencies” in the 2011 law.
“The new 2013 law added more early voting locations, more early voting days and shortened the length of the ballot,” Sellers said. “Perhaps the attorney general is against these reforms and he wants to turn back the clock to the days of less early voting time and less early voting locations in a bizarre attempt to help Charlie Crist. But, Governor Scott has worked to make Florida elections more efficient, convenient and accessible to all voters.”
“The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.”