By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Despite a federal court decision striking down the state’s reduction of early voting days in five counties, Gov. Rick Scott is asking all 67 counties in the state to cut them anyway.
Five counties in Florida — Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, Collier and Monroe — fall under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This means any change that could affect the voting rights of minorities in these counties must be cleared by the federal government.
Among these changes requiring federal review was a voting law passed last year. The law made a slew of changes to the state’s election rules, including a reduction in early voting days from 12 to eight.
Last week, a federal court tasked with reviewing the law for those five counties said the reduction would disproportionately hurt minority voters, who are more likely to take advantage of early voting.
The ruling could affect all counties in the state, since Florida law requires uniform voting rules for every county in the state. But that doesn’t mean the state will ask the other 62 counties to increase the number of early voting days to match those in the five counties under federal review. Instead, according to The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times, “Scott’s chief elections advisor tried to get five counties to agree to eight days of early voting anyway — for 12 hours a day”:
Because the judges rejected the shorter early voting schedule in those counties last week, the counties must provide up to 14 days of early voting under the old law.
During a conference call with Secretary of State Ken Detzner, four of the five said yes to eight, 12-hour early voting days for the general election, in hopes that would satisfy the federal judges.
Only Monroe said no.
Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer said he would offer 12 days of early voting and eight hours on each day at five sites, from Marathon to Key West.
“The days are more important than the hours,” said Sawyer, a Republican who is retiring after 24 years and is not seeking re-election.
Referring to the new eight-hour early voting schedule, he said: “I feel this law does discriminate against minorities and working people. …We need to show the state and the nation that we respect people’s rights.”
This past primary election was the first time the Florida held a major election using two sets of voting rules.