Race and Early Voting on Sundays in Florida

It’s well known that African Americans are more likely to vote early in Florida than whites, and that whites in Florida are more likely to cast absentee ballots.  In the 2008 general election, for example, 2.1 million Floridians voted early.  African Americans cast 22 percent of the early votes, even though they only comprised roughly 13 percent of the total electorate.

The Republican-led Florida legislature is well aware of these statistics.  It is, in part, what inspired their blatant attempt to limit early voting in the lead up to the 2012 general election.  The effort to suppress the black vote was on full display during the floor debate on House Bill 1355 (known formally as the Committee Substitute for Committee Substitute for House Bill 1355 (CS/CS/HB 1355)).

Republican Senator Mike Bennett put it eloquently (as reported by PolitiFact), when he averred:

Do you read the stories about the people in Africa? The people in the desert, who literally walk two and three hundred miles so they can have the opportunity to do what we do, and we want to make it more convenient? How much more convenient do you want to make it? Do we want to go to their house? Take the polling booth with us? This is a hard-fought privilege. This is something people die for. You want to make it convenient? The guy who died to give you that right, it was not convenient. Why would we make it any easier? I want ’em to fight for it. I want ’em to know what it’s like. I want them to go down there, and have to walk across town to go over and vote.

How might the new restriction on early voting–specifically, cutting the early voting period from 14 to 8 days and eliminating voting on the Sunday prior to the general election–affect the 2012 election?

As Justin Levitt noted on the Election Law Blog, although the total number of early voting hours remains fixed at 96 hours, they’re not the same hours. “The former period ran for two weeks, from Monday through the Sunday before Election Day. Now, the period will run from Saturday through Saturday. Leaving off the final Sunday. Which matters.”

The new law takes effect immediately in 62 counties, but there are five “Section 5” counties in the state (Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, Monroe) where the federal Justice Department must first preclear the law due to Florida’s history of racial discrimination.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, none of these five counties offered early voting on Sundays in 2008 or 2010.

I’ve been working with Justin over the past week, crunching some numbers concerning African Americans casting early ballots in Florida’s largest counties that did offer early voting on the two Sundays preceding the November 4, 2008 election.

Keep an eye out for some of the findings…