Percentage of Early Voters Higher in Section 5 Counties in Florida’s 2012 Presidential Primary

As I’ve noted before, Florida’s 2012 Presidential Preference Primary operated under a dual electoral system.  With respect to the window to vote early in-person, voters in 62 of the state’s 67 counties were limited to just eight days of early voting, from Saturday January  21 through Saturday January 28.  Under HB1355, Florida’s controversial voter suppression law, the state legislature eliminated the final Sunday of early voting that was previously permitted.  But five of Florida’s counties are covered by Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the state has yet to receive US Justice Department preclearance to enforce the law in Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe counties. As such, early in-person voting in these five Florida counties began on Monday, January 16, giving voters five additional days to cast their ballots. (Although they have done so, and despite the incorrect information posted of the Secretary of State’s website, none of the five counties opted to offer early voting on either Sunday, January 22 or January 29.)

What the figure below reveals is that, on average, early in-person turnout in the Republican primary was higher in the five Section 5 counties than early in-person turnout in the other 62 counties.   More precisely, 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 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

It is important to note that these significant differences occurred in the GOP primary. In Florida, Republicans are considerably less likely to cast votes early in-person than Democrats or those registered as No Party Affiliate or with a 3rd Party, as the figure below demonstrates from the 2008 general election.

Florida 2008 General Election Party Composition Early Voters Graph

What these figures show, is that early in-person voting–even among Republican voters–was considerably lower under HB1355 than under the old law with more days of early voting. The effects would likely have been magnified if it were a Democratic primary, and will likely be considerably greater in the 2012 general election if the truncating of early voting under HB1355 is upheld.