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According to a story in USA Today, Chris Cate, the director of communications for the Florida Department of State, continues to misinform the public about the total hours of early in-person (EIP) voting hours that are required under HB1355.  He claims that although the number of days has been shortened, the number of EIP voting hours  remains the same, and says that there is no systematic attempt to suppress any group of voters.

Yet, as Politifact has documented, that claim regarding the total number of EIP voting hours under HB1355 is “Mostly False.”

In fact, the total number of early in-person voting hours that county Supervisors of Elections must remain open under HB1355 has been cut in half.

In addition to putting restrictions on voter registration drives, the casting of provisional ballots, and several other voting and elections issues, HB1355 shortened the window of EIP voting from 15 to eight days. Under the new law, county Supervisors of Elections have the discretion to offer between six and 12 hours of early voting each day—amounting to a minimum of 48 hours and a maximum of 96 hours.

Early voting under HB1355 is to commence on a Saturday, 10 days prior to Election Day, and must end on a Saturday, three days prior to Election Day. Most notably, HB1355 prohibits county election supervisors from offering EIP on the Sunday immediately before the election. In the 2008 general election, 10 Supervisors of Elections—including some of the state’s most populated and racially and ethnically diverse counties—offered EIP on the Sunday immediately prior to Election Day.

In short, HB1355 has reduced the number of EIP voting days, has cut in half the required number of EIP voting hours, and has eliminated EIP voting on the final Sunday before Election Day.

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November 3, 2011

Dear Attorney General Holder:

I have just written a letter to U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois who chairs the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. I have asked Sen. Durbin’s subcommittee to conduct a congressional investigation to see if Florida’s new election law is linked to the efforts to pass similar voting restrictions in 14 states so far this year.

The changes mostly involve new ID requirements, shorter early voting periods and new restrictions on third parties who sign up new voters. In Florida, the League of Women Voters considered these restrictions so egregious it abandoned its registration drives after 72 years, and teachers there are running afoul of the law for the way they sign up students to vote.

According to the first comprehensive study of the laws’ impact, just completed by The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, these voting changes could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters in numerous states to cast their ballots in 2012. Both The Washington Post and New York Times have reported such measures could keep young people and minorities away from the polls.

If the Brennan Center is correct in its assessment that five million voters could be disenfranchised, that would be more than the all the registered voters in any of 42 states in this country.

In short, indications are mounting of an effort to suppress the national vote. In Florida, the Justice Department continues reviewing how the voting law changes would affect certain voters, particularly minorities, pursuant to the Voting Rights Act. I believe more should be done.

The Justice Department should investigate whether new state voting laws resulted from collusion or an orchestrated effort to limit voter turnout. The Department needs to determine whether or not there was broad-based motivation to suppress the vote—and, if so, whether any laws were violated.

I look forward to your prompt response on this most serious of issues.

Sincerely,

 

Here’s the link to Sen. Nelson’s letter to Attorney General Holder.

Professor Michael Herron (Dartmouth) and I look forward to sharing our findings on early voting in Florida in the 2008 election at the 2012 State Politics and Policy Conference to be held in Houston, TX on February 16-18, when we present our paper, “The Participatory Impact of Truncating Early Voting in Florida.” It’s pretty timely, given all the attention that Florida US Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio have given to early voting and HB1355.

Here’s our Abstract (tentative):

Over the past two decades, an increasing number of American states have made it more convenient for potential voters to cast early ballots.  Starting with Texas’ adoption of in-person early voting in 1988, 32 states now provide an extended time period prior to Election Day for voters to go to the polls.  Despite the diffusion of and praise by voting rights advocates for early voting, in 2011 the Florida legislature enacted House Bill 1355, which truncated the state’s early voting period from a total of 14 days to eight days and completely eliminated  early voting on the Sunday immediately preceding Election Day.  Critics of the legislation contend the surreptitious goal of the Republican-controlled legislature was to depress African American early voting turnout in 2012.

In this paper, we draw on an original dataset to gauge the potential participatory ramifications of HB 1355 by examining patterns of early voting in the 2008 general election.  By merging the state’s 2008 voter file, comprised of more than 11.3 million registered voters, with the state’s November 2008 early voter file, we are able to assess and study the race and ethnicity, party registration, age, gender, precinct/county registration, and vote history of each registered voter, including those who cast an early ballot, in 2008.

Unlike many studies of early voting in the American states which rely on aggregate-level data, we are able to pinpoint not only which voters were more likely to cast early ballots—specifically their socio-demographic characteristics—but we can also describe on which day during the two-week period in 2008 that they voted.  We employ a variety of multivariate models to test the conventional wisdom that African American voters are more likely than whites to vote early, and vote on Sunday, and that older and partisan voters vote early more often (Stein 1998). In addition, using a voter’s vote history to model early voting, we challenge the growing scholarly consensus—which is based largely on survey data—that early voting merely retains engaged voters (Stein 1998; Neely and Richardson 2001; Berinsky 2005; Kousser and Mullen 2007; Burden, et al. 2011; Gronke, Galanes-Rosenbaum, and Miller 2008) rather than stimulating peripheral voters.

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