In its amended complaint to receive declaratory judgment from a federal court that all sections of HB 1355 are entitled to preclearance under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Florida Secretary of State plays fast and loose with the facts. With respect to the shrinking of the days permissible to vote early in Florida, the complaint states (on page 19) that:
The changes to the early voting statute contained in Section 39 were adopted to expand access to early voting and provide each supervisor of elections additional flexibility regarding the scheduling of early voting. The changes to the early voting statute contained in Section 39 were not adopted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority.
Both the motive behind the statute, HB 1355, as well as the empirical evidence regarding race and early voting in Florida, are quite clear, and do not jibe with the claims made in the Secretary of State’s complaint.
First, as I’ve noted previously, it’s well known that African Americans are more likely to vote early in Florida than whites. In the 2008 general election, 2.1 million Floridians voted early. African Americans cast 22 percent of the early votes, even though they only comprised 13 percent of the total electorate.
The Republican-led Florida legislature was well aware of these statistics. The early turnout of African Americans in 2008 undoubtedly inspired the effort by Republican lawmakers to compress early voting, in anticipation of the 2012 general election. Indeed, the Republican effort to suppress blacks from voting early was on full display during the floor debate on House Bill 1355 (known formally as the Committee Substitute for Committee Substitute for House Bill 1355 (CS/CS/HB 1355)).