U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder agreed Wednesday to accept Florida’s revised early-voting plan for five counties covered by the federal Voting Rights Act. Holder filed his response with a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. Last month, the panel ruled that a new Florida election law that reduced early voting to 8 days from as many as 14 violated the federal law in the designated counties because they could discourage minority voting. The judges, though, indicated they’d approve a plan that still provided 96 hours of early voting – the same as under Florida’s previous law. The state plan submitted by Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration meets that criteria with eight 12-hour days including 12 on a Sunday that weren’t previously offered.
That didn’t satisfy the head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “The rug is about to be pulled out from under the rights of minorities, especially black voters,” said Howard Simon, the group’s executive director. The ACLU is among several individuals and groups that intervened in the case against the early-voting limitation and other provisions in the election law passed last year by the Republican-led Legislature.
Justice Department or federal court preclearance is required for any changes in election laws affecting five Florida counties – Hillsborough, Collier, Hendry, Hardee and Monroe – due to past racial discrimination. “I want voting in Florida to be easy and fair for everyone,” Scott said in a statement. “Today’s decision by the federal Department of Justice is an encouraging sign that we’re headed in the right direction, especially in light of a 52% increase in early voting compared to the 2008 election cycle.”