Florida has received a green light to implement its new early voting schedule for the November presidential election, including a Republican-backed plan that eliminates early voting on the Sunday before Election Day. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division agreed to end its challenge to the new early voting scheme in Florida, considered a critical battleground in the upcoming election. The department notified state officials late Wednesday that it would approve the state’s plan for early voting, provided election supervisors in five designated counties agree to offer 96 hours of early voting over an 8-day period. “The Attorney General does not interpose any objections to the specified changes,” the letter says in part.
Two weeks ago, a federal judge in Ohio, another key battleground state, ordered Ohio officials to restore early voting during the three days prior to Election Day. The Ohio ruling came at the request of lawyers for the Obama presidential campaign. They argued that a Republican-backed law that cutoff early voting for most voters three days prior to Election Day, but allowed military personnel to continue to vote during those three days, was unfair and unconstitutional. The judge agreed. His decision is being appealed by the state of Ohio.
At issue in the Florida case was a voting law change passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that eliminated early voting on the two days prior to the election – including the Sunday immediately before Election Day. Minority groups opposed the change, arguing that it would undercut an effective “souls to polls” program in which Sunday worshipers were transported after church to an early voting site. Critics suggested the new law was aimed at suppressing minority voters, and thus suppressing potential Obama votes.