Florida early voting cuts survive

September 24, 2012

A federal judge won't block Florida's plan to cut the required early voting days from 14 down to eight.

Judge Timothy Corrigan ruled that there was not enough proof that the change burdened the ability of African-Americans to vote. Nor did opponents prove that the law was discriminatory in intent or effect, he wrote. 

In addition to cutting the number of mandatory early voting days, the new Florida law eliminates early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, a day when high percentages of minority voters headed to the polls in 2008. (That surge might be in part due to black church activism, known as "Souls to the Polls.") The new law mandates two Saturdays and one Sunday for early voting, but not the Sunday before Election Day.  

A three-judge tribunal ruled earlier this year that five Florida counties covered by the Voting Rights Act must continue to offer 12 days of early voting. The Department of Justice approved the cuts in early voting statewide, as long as those five counties offered the maximum voting time. 

Corrigan cited the longer voting hours in those counties in his decision. He also noted that no county has announced plans to hold only the new minimum of eight days of early voting and 32 out of 67 will offer the maximum of 96 hours, which has not changed. 

Rep. Corrine Brown (D) filed the lawsuit, along with the Duval County Democratic Party and others.

Early votes are expected to make up a majority of those cast in Florida and a number of other battleground states. Early voters are traditionally Republican-leaning, but President Obama successfully turned out huge numbers of African-American voters early in 2008. So Republican-led attempts to cut back early voting are viewed by some Democrats as an attempt to suppress the minority vote. 

In a statement, Brown professed herself "disappointed" with the decision. 

"I had really hoped that the judge would allow counties to restore voting on the Sunday immediately before election day, but at least we will have one Sunday of early voting guaranteed," Brown wrote. 

Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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