Brown, Duval Dems sue over new early voting days
By David Royse The News Service of Florida
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, FL — U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and several other Democrats on Friday filed a federal lawsuit alleging that changes made last year to a state election law are discriminatory.
The changes, mainly a reduction in the number of early voting days, will essentially be in place for the first time this coming week. That’s because early voting for the Aug. 14 primary election would have started across the state on Monday had the law not changed.
Under the new law, early voting will begin on Saturday, Aug. 4, giving voters five fewer days to cast a ballot than under the old law, and giving local supervisors more discretion to decide exactly when polls will be open for early voting. It also eliminated voting on the Sunday before Election Day. Florida voters have been able to go to the polls ahead of Election Day since 2004.
In five counties – Hillsborough, Collier, Monroe, Hardee and Hendry – early voting will start Monday because those counties are operating under the old law. That’s because the federal government has yet to clear the election-law changes, a step that is required in those five counties because of a history of discrimination. For the state’s other 62 counties, the new law is in effect, which means early voting won’t start until Aug. 4.
Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, announced in a press release the filing of the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Jacksonville. She and the other plaintiffs want a judge to block the state and the Duval County elections supervisor from en-forcing the changes.
While a decision isn’t likely in time to add early voting days before the primary, critics of the law say it’s more important to allow for additional early voting in the November general election. They argue the new reduced voting times hit Democrats harder, in part because early voting has proven very popular in African American communities.
Brown’s lawsuit alleges that the changes violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and violate the federal Voting Rights Act.
“Early voting has worked extremely well for all Floridians and especially for African American voters,” Brown said. “In fact, more than any other racial or ethnic group, African Americans have come to rely on early voting.”
Brown said the only explanation for restricting early voting was that “it seems that Gov. Scott simply does not want people to vote.”
A spokesman for the state Division of Elections said filing the lawsuit at the last minute would cause more harm than good by confusing voters.
The spokesman, Chris Cate, also noted that the new law actually requires a day of Sunday voting, unlike the previous law, which only required that some voting be allowed on weekends. And ironically, the only places where voting won’t happen on Sundays this year are in the five counties using the old law.
“If someone wants to vote early, they have more than a week to do so, which includes more weekend hours than ever before,” Cate said. “Voters can also request an absentee ballot which allows them to vote by mail.
“Voters who prefer to cast a ballot during the early voting period will have ample time to do so wherever they are in the state,” Cate continued.
The change, made by the overwhelmingly Republican Legislature in the 2011 session, was part of a wide-ranging elections bill that amended voting and election procedures in a number of ways – many of them widely criticized by Democrats. Other changes required in the bill, for example, made it harder to vote when a voter has had to change an address, and restricted groups that do so-called third party voter registration, though that part of the law has been overturned by another court.
Along with Brown, plaintiffs in the suit are the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Jacksonville chapter, several local Duval County voters, and the Duval County Democratic Party.
As of Friday, the case hadn’t been assigned to a judge or set for a hearing.