Department of Justice Won't Challenge Early Voting Changes

By: Whitney Ray Email
By: Whitney Ray Email

Tallahassee, Florida- September 6, 2012

A chapter is closing on a year long battle over Florida’s new election law. The last of 80 changes in the controversial law is going unchallenged by the US Department of Justice. Once it’s officially approved, early voting this November will be limited to eight days statewide.

A battle that started in the state legislature in 2011 is nearing an end. The state’s new election law requires voter registration groups to register with the state, forces elections supervisors to report results sooner and cuts early voting days.

The early voting reduction from 14 to eight days caused the most backlash. Black lawmakers and the NAACP tried to stop the changes saying it would affect minority voters because they’re more likely to cast an early ballot.

“The people who are being impacted are people of color and African Americans,” said Dale Landry with the NAACP in an August protest in the Governor’s Office.

The early voting changes are already in place in 62 of Florida’s 67 counties. Because of past discrimination, Collier, Hillsborough, Hardee, Hendry and Monroe counties need approval from a federal court to implement the changes.

The US Department of Justice dropped its challenge to the early voting reduction after the five counties agreed to offer the maximum number of early voting hours allowed under the new law.

Voters in those five counties will have 96 hours to cast a ballot, or 12 hours a day for eight days. Division of Elections Spokesman Chris Cate says there’s plenty of time to vote.

“There’s going to be more flexibility to vote before work and after work. They are going to be guaranteed a Sunday of early voting, which they weren’t guaranteed under the old law,” said Cate.

Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer is the lone hold out on the early voting changes. He told the court he would abide by its wishes.

“I said that I would follow the law, period,” said Sawyer.

But he didn’t promise to be happy about it.

“The old plan was working really well. I still don’t know why they changed it,” said Sawyer.

Sawyer says cutting the number of days will disenfranchise voters and create long lines on Election Day.

Since the Department of Justice is no longer challenging the early voting provision, pre-clearance by the court is almost certain.

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