The war over early voting in Florida ahead of November’s presidential election appeared to wind down Monday, with a federal court refusing to block a portion of the state’s controversial 2011 elections law.
In a ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan denied a request from Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown and other black voters to issue an injunction to keep the state from reducing the number of early-voting days ahead of the Nov. 6 elections — when Florida could play pivotal roles in deciding which party wins the White House, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House.
The voters had argued that the changes, which would reduce the number of early-voting days from at least 12 to no more than eight, would disproportionately affect minority voters, who are more likely to take advantage of early voting than white voters.
The state had countered that elections officials were allowed to offer more hours on each of those days, and that the changes applied equally to all voters.
Corrigan relied heavily on evidence that many counties would offer as many as 12 hours a day in early voting and would require some Sunday voting, a potential opening for the “souls to the polls” get-out-the-vote efforts of some black churches.
“Because Florida’s Early Voting Statute allows early voting during non-working hours, as well as voting during the weekend, including one Sunday, voting times which are important to African American voters, as well as to (get out the vote) efforts, the Court cannot find that the 2011 Early Voting Statute denies equal access to the polls,” he wrote.
Brown and others had argued that the Sunday required for early voting, nearly a week-and-a-half before the election, was not as good as the Sunday immediately before Election Day, which some supervisors used for early voting under the old law.
“I had really hoped that the judge would allow counties to restore voting on the Sunday immediately before election day, but at least we will have one Sunday of early voting guaranteed,” Brown said in a statement issued by her office following the ruling.
Brown vowed to hold a pair of voter-registration drives Tuesday and Sunday in an effort to counter what she portrayed as an effort by the GOP to suppress the black vote.
Brown and the voters could still push forward with the remainder of their lawsuit against the changes, but Corrigan’s ruling means he doesn’t believe they have a good chance of winning the case. And the sides aren’t supposed to let him know whether they want to move forward until December — after the elections.
Corrigan’s order comes a few days after state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and a pair of voting-rights organizations abandoned an administrative case challenging the implementation of the law in 62 of the state’s 67 counties. That fight centered over whether Secretary of State Ken Detzner could require some counties to follow the new law while five counties that must gain federal approval for any voting changes held elections under the old law.
But federal officials eventually green-lighted the early voting change, making the challenge moot.
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida