Archives for category: HB1355

Race, Party, and the Consequences of Restricting Early Voting in Florida in the 2012 General Election

Political Research Quarterly

Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith

Abstract

In mid-2011, the Florida legislature reduced the state’s early voting period from fourteen days to eight and eliminated the final Sunday of early voting. We compare observed voting patterns in 2012 with those in the 2008 General Election and find that racial/ethnic minorities, registered Democrats, and those without party affiliation had significant early voting participation drops and that voters who cast ballots on the final Sunday in 2008 were disproportionately unlikely to cast a valid ballot in 2012. Florida’s decision to truncate early voting may have diminished participation rates of those already least likely to vote.

OnlineFirst: February 24, 2014

Available: Full Text (PDF)

My collaborator, Michael Herron at Dartmouth, and I have been crunching the numbers, drilling down into the Florida voter file to get a better sense of who is more likely to cast ballots that are later rejected by county canvassing boards.

Doing so has generated considerable publicity and even has raised the possibility of reform, with Governor Scott changing his tune on the deleterious effects of HB1355, though the cynic in me remains to be convinced…I’ll reserve judgment until May, when the legislative session wraps up.

In particular, there’s been a lot of attention focusing on our report that documents the higher rejection rate of absentee ballots cast by minority voters and how these rejection rates are not consistent across the state’s 67 counties.

Due to the long lines during the truncated eight-day early voting period and the expected long lines on Election Day, many minorities–who historically vote early in disproportionately higher rates than whites in Florida–decided instead to request and cast absentee ballots.

As we write in our report, not only did the percentage of African Americans casting absentee ballots go up in 2012, the rejection rate of absentee ballots cast by blacks was nearly twice that of absentee ballots cast by white voters.

Quite possibly due to well‐founded fears of long lines at early voting and Election Day polling sites resulting from HB 1355, absentee ballots—a much less reliable form of voting a valid ballot—increased in 2012. Over 28 percent of all ballots cast in 2012 were absentee ballots, nearly six percentage points higher than in 2008. Almost one percent of these ballots were “rejected as illegal” in 2012 by county canvassing boards, and the African American absentee ballot rejection rate was nearly twice the absentee ballot rejection rate of white voters.

This, of course, raises the question of ‘who should be blamed?’–voters or election administrators–for the significantly higher rejection rate of absentee ballots cast by African Americans.

To answer this question, I think it’s important to first establish some baselines for comparison.  The statewide rejection rate of absentee ballots cast in 2012 was 0.97%. The statewide rejection rate of absentee ballots cast by African Americans was 1.47%.  And the statewide rejection rate of absentee ballots cast by whites was 0.81%.

But there were considerable differences in rejection rates across the state’s 67 counties.

Our findings for Collier County reveal, as reported in the Naples News, that more than 6% of the absentee ballots cast by 580 African Americans in the county were ‘rejected as illegal’ by the county canvassing board, a rejection rate nearly 5x greater than that for white voters casting absentee ballots. It should be noted that Collier County is one of the five counties in Florida covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

It’s curious, then, why the rejection rate of the absentee ballots cast by 2,522 blacks in neighboring Lee County was 0%. Or that only 1.65% of absentee ballots cast by blacks in neighboring Miami-Dade County were ‘rejected as illegal.’

For anyone who has observed county canvassing boards interpreting the validity of signatures on the back of absentee ballots, they’ll likely attest that there’s a considerable amount of discretion in determining whether the signature on an absentee ballot envelope should be accepted or rejected.

According to the Florida Statutes, “The canvassing board shall, if the supervisor has not already done so, compare the signature of the elector on the voter’s certificate with the signature of the elector in the registration books to see that the elector is duly registered in the county and to determine the legality of that absentee ballot….An absentee ballot shall be considered illegal if it does not include the signature of the elector, as shown by the registration records.”

Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised with the fairly high rate of absentee ballots that are rejected, compared to those cast in person during the early voting period or on Election Day.  As I told the Miami-Herald last year, “Absentee ballots are processed and verified using different standards than regular ballots and as such, are routinely rejected at a higher rate by county supervisors than ballots cast during the early voting period or on Election Day.”

Of course, the rejection rate for absentee ballots may be attributed to the ignorance of voters, as some neglect to sign the back of the envelope properly, or sign in a way that does not match their signature on file with the election supervisor’s office.

But then what accounts for the inter-county variation in rejection rates for African Americans?  Are blacks living in Lee County more educated, or more civic-minded and engaged, than those living just south of them in Collier County? Color me dubious….

Perhaps it’s attributable to fraud–that the absentee ballots requested for African American voters in Collier were being filled out by other individuals, thus increasing the likelihood that the signature of the imposter wouldn’t match that on the voter file. Or perhaps elderly or crippled African Americans were more likely to have help filling out their ballots than similar white voters casting absentee ballot voters.

Hmmmmm….  So, both of these possible forms of fraud seemingly only occurred in Collier County, and only among African American absentee voters, but not in other counties.  Again, it doesn’t seem very plausible to me.

What about the role of election administrators and the canvassing boards charged with determining whether an absentee ballot is valid. It’s true that there is no overt information about a voter’s race or ethnicity on the envelope containing an absentee ballot.

But that does not mean that those charged with determining the veracity of a voter’s signature are ignorant of the race/ethnicity of an absentee voter.  Not only do many given and surnames often have a racial/ethnic identity, but so too do the return addresses on absentee ballot envelopes. Given the high racial/ethnic geographic segregation in most of Florida counties, it doesn’t take much local knowledge to have a pretty good guess of the racial/ethnic identity of a voter living on a particular street or in a given neighborhood.

In no way am I suggesting that there is overt racism by local supervisors or their canvassing boards when judging whether a signature should be ‘rejected as illegal’ or not.

And I’m not willing to absolve the culpability of individual voters casting absentee ballots that are deemed to be invalid.

Still, I have yet to hear a good reason for why there’s such a gap across Florida’s 67 counties when it comes to the rejection rates of absentee ballots cast by minority voters across the state.

But such a gap does exist, and because some of these counties–such as Collier County–still fall under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because of past racial discrimination, it seems pretty important for the US Justice Department and state and federal policy makers to acknowledge these differences and begin to drill down, like we’re trying to do, to understand why they seem to persist.

In the 2008 General Election, roughly 876k total ballots were cast in Miami-Dade County.  Roughly 20% of all ballots cast in the election were absentee ballots, and of the the 175k absentee ballots cast, approximately 1% were rejected.  Only 10% of African Americans voted absentee in 2008 in Miami-Dade, and only 1.2% of those ballots were rejected.

A majority of African Americans in the county, some 56%, voted early during the 14 day early voting period in 2008 (which included the final Sunday before Election Day). Very few problems with long lines were reported, despite the fact that more than 325k voters cast their ballots in-person at early voting sites.

Fast-forward to 2012.

We all know of the unacceptably long lines at early voting sites in Miami-Dade in 2012 (some lasting more than 6 hours).  Not surprisingly, voter participation during the truncated eight-day period dropped in the county, as it did statewide (by more than 200k voters). In 2012, only 235k voters in Miami-Dade cast their ballots early, a drop of roughly 90,000 voters.  The steep drop in early voting by African Americans is particularly striking, given the propensity of blacks to vote early.  Fewer than 75k African Americans, just 42%, voted early in Miami-Dade in 2012, a drop of 14 percentage points from the nearly 56% early voting rate in 2008.

Many African Americans, seeing the long lines, out of necessity became absentee ballot voters in 2012.   Over 33k blacks in the county voted by absentee ballot in the county.  But over 500 of those ballots were rejected by the county canvassing board, a rejection rate of 1.65%, which was far higher than the overall statewide rejection rate of .97%, and higher than the rejection rate of absentee ballots cast by blacks in Miami-Dade in 2008.

Just some food for thought for Marc Caputo to contemplate…

 

 

 

 

Honored to be mentioned by US Senator Bill Nelson in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in today’s hearing on Voting Rights. The research that he mentioned, which I coauthored with Michael Herron at Dartmouth College, is available here.

Counting Ballots in Florida: Where you Live Matters

Daniel A. Smith, Professor, Political Science, University of Florida, and Michael C. Herron, Professor of Government, Dartmouth College

A lesson all Floridians should have learned from the 2000 presidential election meltdown is that state law requires the uniform application across all 67 counties in Florida of the electoral code. Nonetheless, reports are surfacing that high numbers of voters in some counties are having their absentee ballots rejected by local canvassing boards, and still others indicate that voters turning out to cast early ballots at the polls are being required to vote provisional ballots.

For an absentee ballot to count, the envelope in which it was mailed must have a voter signature. The voter’s signature must match a signature on file with a relevant Supervisor of Elections Office. County canvassing boards – made up of three members, one of whom is the local supervisor of elections (unless he or she is running for re-election) – are responsible for determining if a given absentee ballot should be accepted or rejected.

Historically, and again in the 2012 presidential election, problems with a voter’s signature are associated with rejected absentee ballots.

This past week, in Palm Beach County, a woman who cast an absentee ballot that was deemed “rejected as illegal” by the county canvassing board, apparently because her signature on the back of the envelope didn’t match the record on file with the supervisor, filed a lawsuit to challenge her vote not being counted. The circuit judge who heard the case on Friday, while sympathetic to the 61-year-old’s claim that it was indeed her signature on the back of the envelope, told her from the bench, “Logic, common sense, equity, the American way – they’re all on your side.” But, “[W]hen I read the statutes I’m not convinced logic, common sense and the law reside in the same house.”

And in Volusia County, news accounts report that more than 400 voters have already have had their absentee ballots rejected by the local canvassing board, including more than 150 voters whose signatures on the back of the privacy envelopes apparently didn’t match what was on file with the local Supervisor of Elections Office.

Voters whose absentee ballots are rejected for signature problems appear to be out of luck. There are no second chances if signatures do not line up on absentee ballots. If an absentee ballot is rejected by the canvassing board, a voter may not legally cast a replacement ballot at the polls.

In 2008, according to a survey of Florida’s 67 Supervisors of Elections conducted after the presidential contest by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 18,456 absentee ballots were rejected statewide, roughly 1 percent of the total absentee ballots cast. Of those absentee ballots deemed to be invalid, 30.5 percent were received after the close of polls on Election Day, 34.0 percent did not have a signature on the return envelope, and 25.8 percent had a non-matching signature. A couple dozen more absentee ballots were rejected because there were multiple ballots in an envelope, the envelope returned that was returned was unofficial, or the envelope wasn’t sealed.

Turning now to problems with voting in person, Florida law allows individuals who claim to be properly registered and eligible to vote but whose eligibility cannot be verified at the polls, to cast a provisional ballot. While no hard data on the status of these ballots from Florida’s 67 counties is yet available for the 2012 election, if history is any guide, voters who are required to cast provisional ballots will be very unlikely to have their votes tabulated.

Compared to the rejection rates of absentee ballots, voters casting provisional ballots at the polls four years ago were even more likely to have their ballots rejected by canvassing boards. Indeed, over half of the 35,635 provisional ballots cast during early voting period or on Election Day in 2008 were subsequently rejected. Most of those whose provisional ballots were rejected were determined not to be registered in Florida or had voted in the wrong county (and failed to update their addresses); a few others didn’t provide adequate identification at the polls or filled out information on their provisional ballot privacy sleeves incorrectly.

The point we are trying to make clear is that many ballots cast in Florida are rejected. And, as we show in the accompanying graphic (click here) depicting the August primary – which displays the proportion of rejected absentee ballots along the X axis and provisional ballots along the Y axis, with the size of the dots representing the sum of the absentee and provisional ballots cast in the election — the likelihood of a ballot being rejected appears to depend on where it was cast, that is, in what county. All Florida voters should thus be asking, is there reason to be worried that the likelihood that my absentee or provisional ballot might be rejected depending on the county of my residence?

To get a better sense of the importance of this question, we looked at the patterns of rejected absentee and provisional ballots across Florida’s 67 counties in the recent Aug. 14 primary election. More than 786,000 voters cast absentee ballots and nearly 3,000 more were required to cast provisional ballots in this election, held only a few months ago.

Thousands of absentee and provisional ballots were rejected by county canvassing boards in the August primary. These rejection figures need to be considered in the context of a primary. That is, the primary was an election in which “super voters” — the state’s most highly engaged voters – made up the vast majority of the voter pool.

What we found by analyzing voter history files maintained by the Florida Division of Elections is that the rejection rates of absentee and provisional ballots vary considerably across the state. As the graphic reveals, some counties reject a much higher proportion of absentee ballots and provisional ballots than others. Our analysis of official voter history files assumes that all absentee and provisional ballots cast were accepted unless there is unambiguous evidence in the history files that they were not. In addition, we also eliminated obvious inconsistencies in the state’s voter files in a way that we believe is appropriate.

With nearly 2 million absentee ballots already received by Supervisors of Elections Offices in advance of the upcoming 2012 general election, and countless more provisional ballots being cast during early voting (and on Election Day), there is a good possibility that we will see an even higher percentage of absentee and provisional ballots rejected by local canvassing boards than in the August primary and possibly even the 2008 general election.

Unfortunately, we won’t know definitively how many absentee and provisional ballots will be rejected until after voting has concluded and, presumably, a president named.

But the considerable variation across counties when it comes to rejecting absentee and provisional ballots is troubling. At this point we cannot say why there are considerable differences in Florida in the rejection rates of absentee and provisional ballots. But, we are suspicious that election administration across the state’s 67 counties is not entirely in keeping with a uniform application of the state’s electoral code.

In order to prevent another election fiasco, we think it is crucial that election administrators not only help voters become more educated about submitting valid absentee ballots, but also do what they can to avoid forcing voters to cast provisional ballot. It is also critical that supervisors of elections and county canvassing boards apply a uniform standard when making what are often judgment calls that decide whether a ballot counts or not.

Voting is a fundamental right in the United States. Casting absentee and provisional ballots may, unfortunately, be leading to the disenfranchisement of some voters, depending on the counties in which they reside.

Drs. Smith and Herron have co-authored articles in several outlets examining voting rights and election law in Florida.

Crack Palm Beach Post reporters, Dara Kam and John Lantigua have exposed the origins of Florida’s 2011 voter suppression law, HB1355.  Emmett “Bucky” Mitchell IV, who was formerly the Florida Division of Elections senior attorney, penned the first draft of the controversial legislation that made it more difficult for groups to register voters, reduced early voting hours, and required registered voters moving to a new county to cast a provisional ballot.  In 2000, he designed Katherine Harris’s flawed list that wrongly purged thousands of African Americans wrongly identified as felons.

Mitchell currently serves as general counsel for the Florida GOP.

According to his deposition in a lawsuit filed in 2011 by the League of Women Voters, Mitchell admitted to writing “the early version of 1355 around January 2011, after consultations with three top Florida GOP officials: Andy Palmer, then executive director of the Florida GOP; Frank Terraferma, head of GOP State House campaigns; and Joel Springer, head of State Senate campaigns. Also included in early talks was former executive director of the Florida GOP Jim Rimes, now a senior partner at Enwright Consulting, a Tallahassee political consulting firm that counsels GOP political candidates.”

When asked by LWV attorney Daniel O’Connor if he was “aware of any instances of any voters in Florida voting twice in a single election?” Mitchel replied, “Not specifically, no.”  When asked,“Were you aware of any other types of fraud or misconduct by voters who moved and attempted to update their address at a polling place and vote that same day?” Mitchell replied, “No.”

Evidently, writing legislation for the Republican-controlled legislature is common practice for Mitchell. As he told O’Connor, “Typically, what I do before a (legislative) session begins is, I look at changes that I think would be beneficial to our clients,” especially regarding campaign finance issues. “In this case, that’s how this election bill got started.”

The full story is available here.

 

Watch the preview of CNN’s upcoming documentary, “Who Counts,” featuring my research with Michael Herron on Early Voting in Florida.

 

As was reported widely in the press, if not entirely accurately, last Thursday night a Washington, DC, panel of federal judges handed down a unanimous ruling that restrictions placed on early voting in Florida should continue not to be implemented in the five counties covered by Section 5 of the 1975 amendments to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Florida, said the panel, “has failed to satisfy its burden of proving that those changes will not have a retrogressive effect on minority voters.”

With respect to early voting, House Bill 1355–which was passed on party line votes by the Florida legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Rick Scott in May 2011–is likely to have a differential impact on racial and ethnic minority voters in the 2012 general election.  In addition to my testimony before the US Senate on the topic, I’ve co-authored with Professor Michael Herron of Dartmouth College a soon-to-be published article in Election Law Journal that reveals the heavy reliance of early voting by minorities in the 2008 general election.  We found that in the 10 Florida counties that offered voting on the final Sunday of early voting in 2008, there was a surge in turnout among minority voters, especially African Americans.  That final Sunday of voting was eliminated under HB1355.

Since then, Florida voters have participated in two statewide primary elections in 2012 under a dual system of elections, which very well may violate state law.

Because the Secretary of State decided to enforce HB 1355 in 62 of the state’s 67 counties, despite the fact that the US Justice Department refused to preclear the enforcement of HB 1355 for Florida’s  five covered counties (Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe) under Section 5 of the VRA, those five continued to offer two weeks of early voting, (Monday through Saturday, and again, Monday through Saturday) for a total of 96 hours. (Incidentally, both prior to and after the enforcement of HB 1355, the elections supervisors of each of the five counties opted not to offer voting on either of the two Sundays, instead allotting the required eight-hours of weekend early voting all on the two Saturdays).

In contrast, the state’s other 62 counties were required by HB 1355 to cut back on the total number of days of early voting (from a maximum of 14 days, Monday through Sunday, and again, Monday through the final Sunday before the election; to a maximum of eight days, Saturday through Saturday).  Under the new early voting restrictions contained in HB 1355, which apparently eluded both Governor Scott as well the Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, Supervisors of Elections and could offer as few as 48 total hours (but no more than 96 hours over the truncated period).

As I noted back in March following Florida’s (Republican) Presidential Preference Primary (PPP), under Florida’s dual election system the percentage of early voters casting a ballot averaged across the five Section 5 counties was higher than the average use of early voting in the state’s other 62 counties, with the reduced days and hours of early voting.  As I wrote then, “a greater percentage of registered Republicans opted to vote early in-person in the five Section 5 counties than registered Republicans in neighboring counties. Some 11.8% of registered Republicans voted early in the five VRA Section 5 counties, compared to 9.3% of registered Republicans who voted in the other 62 counties.  More significantly, early in-person voting in the five counties with the extended voting window accounted for a greater percentage of the total turnout in the Presidential Preference Primary, on average, compared with turnout in the other 62 counties.  Nearly one in three votes cast in the GOP primary election in the five Section 5 counties were ballots cast early in-person by voters, compared to less than 22% of all ballots cast in the other 62 counties. Florida 2012 Presidential Preference Primary Section 5 VRA Counties Early Voters Graph

The same was true in the recent August 14 statewide primary with Republicans, Democrats, third party, and nonpartisan voters coming to the polls, as Dr. Herron and I found by merging the 67 county early voter files (which we downloaded three days after election day) with the state’s (yet to be official) turnout figures from the 67 counties.  Of the roughly 183k registered voters who turned out to vote in the five Section 5 counties (Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe), 18.96% came to the polls in person over the two-week early voting period (Monday-Saturday, Monday-Saturday). (As I mentioned above, each of the Section 5 counties still operate under the old law, and in addition to offering eight hours a day Monday through Friday, have opted to offer eight hours on the two Saturdays, for a total of 96 hours of early voting).

In contrast, of the nearly 2.16 million registered voters who turned out to vote in the state’s other 62 counties, which had a total of only eight days of early voting (Saturday through Saturday) and averaged considerably less than 96 total hours over the week, only 15.39% voted early, nearly 3.6 percentage points less than the five Section 5 counties.

This certainly seems to provide further evidence that the DC federal court last week was correct in striking down Governor Scott’s effort to curtail early voting.  Having a longer time-frame, with more available hours to cast an early ballot, only enhances a citizen’s likelihood of getting to the polls–including African Americans living in the protected counties (although we need to conduct further analysis to verify this possibility).  But of course, that’s why most Republican lawmakers supported HB1355–and Governor Scott quickly signed it into law–because they’re not terribly interested in trying to expand Florida’s electorate.

And early voting may very expand the electorate, notwithstanding the conventional wisdom (expressed even by those who opposed the cut-back of early voting, including Reed College Professor Paul Gronke, who served as an expert opposing the shortening of early voting in the DC litigation) that early voting may simple redistribute the timing of those citizens who already plan to cast a ballot vote.

Florida’s quasi-natural experiment, which Dr. Herron and I are investigating for a series of papers (including one we’re presenting next week at what promises to be a fantastic panel on the strategic mobilization of minorities at APSA, with Dr. Matt Barreto serving as our discussant), provides some leverage into the question of whether HB 1355 may have a depressing effect on overall turnout.

What we’re seeing in Florida (due to the state’s dual election system), is that having early voting spread over two weeks appears to give a wider range of voters more opportunities to turn out to vote.  When faced with fewer days and shortened hours of early voting, registered voters who have become habituated to vote early may decide to stay home.

This is particularly an important point when thinking about the five Florida counties covered by Section 5 of the VRA.  Average turnout is historically lower in these five counties than the statewide average. This, of course, is one of the reasons why the five counties were added in 1975 to those counties protected by the Justice Department under Section 5 VRA.

Average turnout of the five Section 5 counties compared to the state’s other 62 counties over the five statewide elections immediately prior to the implementation of HB 1355 (2008 PPP, 2008 primary, 2008 general election, 2010 primary, and 2010 general election) was 4.61 percentage points less, 40.81% to 45.42%.

And average turnout of the five Section 5 counties over the two statewide primary elections held in 2008 (the January PPP and the August primary) was only 30.13%, compared to an average of 35.79% in the state’s other 62 counties, an even greater difference of 5.66 percentage points.

But when comparing turnout numbers for the two primaries (the January PPP and the August primary) held in 2012 under Florida’s dual election system–with more early voting opportunities for registered voters living in the five section 5 counties compared to those residing in the other 62 counties–the turnout gap narrowed considerably, on average.  Turnout in the five Section 5 counties was 32.97%, compared to 36.20%, a difference of only 3.23 percentage points.

So, what are we to make of this? Admittedly, the turnout gap between the five Section 5 and the other 62 counties is not huge, but it is indicative that HB 1355 may be depressing turnout in those counties that must comply with the new, more restrictive law.  And, it is certainly arguable that since registered voters in the five Section 5 counties have historically relied more heavily on early voting in past elections, and if early voting days and hours are reduced in those counties if HB 1355 is eventually upheld, their comparatively lower turnout levels might take even more of a hit.

Unfortunately, we will not have a more definitive answer to this possibility until after the 2012 election.  But with what we’ve seen so far, it seems pretty clear that reducing the number of days and hours of early voting in Florida has had a negative effect on voter turnout.

Stay tuned. Much more from Dr. Herron and me on this later…

Let me make this very clear:

Prior to the passage of HB 1355 in May 2011, early voting in FL started the 15th day before an election and ended the 2nd day before the election. So, the open period of early voting started on a Monday and ended two Sundays later.

The old law required the state’s 67 Supervisors of Elections to offer a total 96 hours of early voting over the 14-day period, and the SOEs were required to offer early voting for exactly 8 hours per day on weekdays and exactly 8 hours in the aggregate each weekend.  The SOEs had the discretion of spreading the 8 hours of weekend early voting on Saturday or Sunday, or limiting it to a single weekend day.

In the past, the SOEs in five counties in Florida covered by the Voting Rights Act decided not to offer early voting on Sundays, resulting in their 96 hours of early voting fall on just 12 days, as the DC court makes clear in its decision handed down yesterday.  But in the November 2008 election, for example, 10 SOEs offered voting on each of the 14 days, including the final Sunday before the election. Much more on that, here, here, and here.

HB 1355 shrinks the number of total days of EV to 8, and allows SOEs to reduce the total number of hours over the 8-day period. The early voting period under HB 1355 begins on the 10th day before an election and ends on the Saturday before election day. SOEs may offer no less than 6 hours of early voting each day and no more than 12 hours each day. The maximum number of hours of early voting under HB 1355, thus, is 96; the fewest is 48.

I’ve written about Florida’s system of early voting here, here, and here, and have a forthcoming coauthored article in Election Law Journal on the topic.

The major question remaining from the DC federal district court’s decision yesterday–which applied only to the five Florida counties covered under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act (Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe) is whether the state of Florida will continue to ignore state law requiring uniform election codes, and allow a dual election system.

A separate legal challenge in state administrative court may very well determine whether Florida citizens in the 5 Section 5 counties will continue to have two weeks to cast an early ballot, while those residing in thestate’s other 62 counties will be limited to just 8 days.

More on this later…

Here’s a link to the DC court’s decision, and the findings of fact.

But for now, here’s Gary Fineout’s AP story (which has some confused  information gleaned from the decision, as it focuses on Florida’s 5 counties covered by the Voting Rights Act: Florida’s early voting law prior to HB 1355 allowed up to 14 days of early voting (not only 12); HB 1355 reduced the number of days to 8).

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A federal court on Thursday gave five Florida counties four extra days of early voting in this fall’s elections.

The Republican-controlled Florida legislature last year cut the state’s number of early-voting days to 8 from 12. But the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the changes won’t happen in Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe counties, which are covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

That section requires election changes to be cleared by federal officials or federal judges. The states covered under Section 5 are mostly in the South and all have a history of discriminating against blacks, American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaskan Natives or Hispanics.

The three-judge panel said Thursday that the reduction in early voting days in those counties “would make it materially more difficult for some minority voters to cast a ballot.” But the 119-page ruling did say there were ways Florida could change its early voting practices that would not adversely impact minority voting rights.

A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the changes into law last year, called that part of the decision “encouraging.”

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