The Department of Justice has approved Florida’s early voting schedule for the five counties in the state protected by a civil rights-era law, all but clearing the last significant conflict in the path of November balloting. In a motion filed on Wednesday before the United States District Court in Washington, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Justice Department did not oppose Florida’s new plan for those five counties, under one condition: The counties must offer 96 hours of voting between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. over eight days, the maximum under the law. The Justice Department sued the state over its new early voting schedule, which would have reduced the number of days for early voting. With both sides agreeing to the terms, the court is expected to dismiss the suit. But a separate lawsuit filed by Representative Corrinne Brown, a Florida Democrat, over the state’s early voting law is pending, which could still affect the new schedule.
“The approval of these changes is a tremendous victory for Florida voters,” said Ken Detzner, Florida’s secretary of state and chief elections officer. “In the areas of the state already able to implement the changes, we have seen how the changes offer more flexibility to vote, more accountability and faster reporting times on Election Day.”
The question of early voting has been an explosive one in Florida, with critics accusing the state of trying to discourage black voters from going to the polls. In 2008, 54 percent of Florida’s black voters voted early — twice the rate of white voters. Five of Florida’s 67 counties — including Monroe and Hillsborough — fall under the national Voting Rights Act. The act requires that changes in voting laws in counties or states with a history of racial discrimination must be approved, or “pre-cleared,” by the Justice Department. Rather than wait for permission, Florida proceeded with the new rules for the 62 counties, an unorthodox move that prompted the department’s lawsuit and threatened to create a dual election system here.