New Twist in Voting Battle Could Change Trip to Polls

By: Troy Kinsey; Mike Vasilinda Email
By: Troy Kinsey; Mike Vasilinda Email

Tallahassee, Florida- August 17,2012- 11pm

It used to be an election in Florida was a one-day affair.

That is, until long lines and the controversy of 2000 gave rise to early voting, keeping the polls open for two entire weeks.

But now, Florida's GOP leaders are having second thoughts.

They've cut the early voting period from 12 days to eight.

"The person that doesn't take the time to vote in one of those two weeks, to order an absentee ballot, to go and vote on election day, frankly, I don't think they care enough," said republican representative Matt Caldwell.

That's an argument a federal court doesn't buy.

With a new ruling, it's blocking the early voting changes from taking effect in five counties covered by the Voting Rights Act.

They all have a history of ballot box discrimination, and state representative alan williams agrees with the court, taking away early voting days would hurt minority access.

"It's had a major impact with the churches in the African-American community because on that Sunday - you know, they took out early voting Sunday altogether - but there was a major initiative around the state to get folks not to just go vote for Democrats, but vote for whoever, but take folks to the polls," said democratic representative
Alan Williams.

Florida has a long history of fiasco-filled elections, which is a big reason state law now says election rules have to be identical from county to county.

A Tallahassee judge is set to rule next week on whether blocking the reforms in the five counties mean they have to be blocked in all 62 others, as well.

If that were to happen, the early voting window might continue to be two weeks.

But Chris Cate with the Florida Department of State disagrees, arguing not all counties are created equal.

"It's not our preference to have two sets of early voting hours, but it is how the law requires it," said Cate.

The question now, will that law survive the court system or be struck down just in time for the fall campaign?

Another federal judge has already invalidated a part of the election reform law that put new restrictions on voter registration groups.

Organizations like the League of Women Voters are no longer mandated to turn in their registration forms to the state within 48 hours.

Tallahassee, Florida- August 17, 2012- 5:30pm

Voters in five Florida Counties (Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hendry, Hardee) will have an extra four days of early voting than everywhere else in Florida. That’s because a Federal three judge panel says Florida can not reduce the number of days of early voting because the five counties have a history of discrimination.

In 2008, lines wrapped around early voting sites as half of all African Americans cast their ballots before election day. Then, In 2011, state lawmakers shortened early voting from 12 days to 8. But now, a panel of Federal judges has told the state five Florida counties under the voting rights act must have all 12 days of early voting. Dale Landry of the NAACP says the change sought to dampen African American turnout.

“You’ve got to understand that many of our folk, African Americans, they are working class people. So if you got more time, that gives us more time to get to the polls and vote” says Landry.

Statistics from this past Tuesday show that in the five counties with all 12 days of early voting, four of every one hundred who are registered voted early. That compares to just three of every hundred in the rest of the state.

Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho has been an outspoken critic of the fewer hours to early vote. He’s pushing his association to use the ruling to expand early voting in all 67 counties. “Equal protection demands that all voters in the state of Florida be treated the same” says Sancho.

The Secretary of States office spent most of the day reviewing the 119 page opinion from the Federal Judges. Spokesman Chris Cate says the state expectes to eventually win the early voting case, but for now “Five counties in Florida will still be operating under what is previous election laws”.

By Monday, Florida’s Elections Supervisors, as a group, will decide whether to seek longer early voting across the state.

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