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.