Still Confused about Florida’s Early Voting Law? You’re Not the Only One

I just took a quick stroll around the web to check out the headlines announcing the DC federal district court’s decision yesterday on Florida’s 2011 early voting law.

Every one of the following headlines, except one, is misleading.


Federal court rejects Florida early voting changes

Rick Scott Strikes Out Again: Federal Court Blocks Florida Attack On Early Voting

Federal court says early voting cutback could hurt blacks

Federal Court Reinstates Early Voting Days In Parts Of Florida

Florida judge dumps early voting limits in some counties

Black Vote: Federal Court Reinstates 4 Early Voting Days in 5 Florida Counties


Not sure which one? Check out yesterday’s post where I try to explain Florida’s early voting law, before and after the passage of HB 1355.


Updated: Still lots of confusion in media over early voting in Florida

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.

DC Fed Court Blocks Florida Elimination of Early Voting Days in 5 Voting Rights Act Counties

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.”