Florida Early Voting Plan for Five Counties Approved

Florida’s plan for five counties that allows for 96 hours of early voting over eight days was approved by the U.S. after a federal court rejected a previous proposal as harming minority voters.

The U.S. Justice Department, in a filing yesterday federal court in Washington, said it has no objection to Florida’s early voting plan for five counties and will seek to have the state’s lawsuit against it be dismissed. Those hours would only apply to the five counties -- Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe -- which are covered by Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act.

“The attorney general does not interpose any objection to the specified changes,” according to a letter to Florida from T. Christian Herren, the head of the department’s voting section.

A three-judge panel in Washington on Aug. 16 blocked a new Florida rule that would have cut early voting days in those counties by almost half, saying the change could affect non-white voters.

In the 2008 election, 54 percent of black voters in Florida voted early, which was twice the rate for whites, the judges said in their ruling. According to a report paid for by the Democratic National Committee, 1.1 million blacks voted in the state in 2008. President Barack Obama won Florida by 236,450 votes.

67 Counties

The Florida ruling stemmed from a lawsuit against the U.S. filed in August 2011 to compel the Justice Department to approve curtailed voting hours and a reduction in the number of early voting days to eight from 14 in five of Florida’s 67 counties.

Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Florida must get permission from the department to make any changes in election rules in the five counties or sue to win approval of them from the special three-judge panel in Washington.

The early voting cutbacks were among several changes in election procedures passed by the Republican-controlled Florida legislature last year.

Another challenge to early voting cutbacks to the other counties is currently pending in federal court in Florida.

Mitchell Rivard, a Justice Department spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail message yesterday after regular business hours seeking comment on the filing.

Chris Cate, a spokesman for the Florida Department of State, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail yesterday seeking comment on the filing after regular business hours.

The case is Florida v. U.S., 1:11-cv-01428, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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