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Florida Gov. Rick Scott signs controversial election laws

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott speaks to the media as he departs St. Ann Catholic Church in Naples, Fla. after voting in the Republican primary election on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010. (AP Photo/Naples Daily News, Tristan Spinski) AP Photo

Florida Gov. Rick Scott this week signed a set of election law changes intended to curb voter fraud that Democrats and other groups say amount to voter suppression.

"I want people to vote, but I also want to make sure there's no fraud involved in elections," Scott said, as the Miami Herald reports. "All of us as individuals that vote want to make sure that our elections are fair and honest."

The new law, which goes into effect immediately, cuts the number of early voting days in Florida from 15 to eight, and places more restrictions on voters seeking to update their names or addresses at the ballot box. It also requires third-party groups that register new voters to submit forms with those voters' names within 48 hours or face fines.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who's up for re-election next year, sent a letter to the Justice Department last month asking for a formal review of the measure. The state's six Democratic House members sent their own letter to the Justice Department, writing, "The role of government should never be to curtail the registration of newly eligible voters or hinder Americans from exercising the most fundamental democratic right afforded by our Constitution."

Limiting the ability of voters to update their address or name could impact voters in college -- a typically Democratic constituency. Meanwhile, the Herald notes, early voting was seen as having contributed to President Obama's 2008 electoral victory in the state.

The bill's state Senate sponsor, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, said that reducing the number of early voting days would lower costs without much impact, arguing that few people vote early during the first week, the Florida Times-Union reports. "There is a trickle of two to three people per day at a very high cost to keep those public libraries and polls open and people working them and so forth," he said in April.

The newspaper notes that in the first week of early voting in Jacksonville for a city election, 16,230 people cast ballots during the first week, at a daily average of 2,318 compared to 3,190 during the remaining days.

Some nonpartisan organizations, including the League of Women Voters, have complained about the new laws as well. The League of Women Voters of Florida described the measure as a return to "Jim Crow tactics," the Orlando Sentinel reports. The group has said that it would stop its voter registration drives should the bill become law.

Meanwhile, according to the Herald, a statewide association for Florida election supervisors warned that the new laws will create confusion and chaos at the polls next year.

Scott's office reportedly said it has received 14,000 calls and emails in opposition to the law and under 1,300 in favor of it.

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