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Black lawmakers push for early voting changes

A coalition of African-American legislators is pushing to allow early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, saying a yearslong tradition was eliminated by elections changes approved last year.

In response to the challenges of the 2000 general election, the Legislature greatly expanded early voting in 2002. Black churches began to encourage congregants to vote immediately after Sunday services the weekend prior to any election day, an effort known as “Souls to the Polls,” Sen. Chris Smith, D-Ft. Lauderdale, said. The event sometimes accounted for 20 or 30 percent of all African-American turnout, he said.

But the elections changes approved last year limited early voting hours and restricted early voting within 3 days of an election, which effectively ended “Souls to the Polls."

“Last year’s elections law took us back,” Smith said.

He has proposed an amendment to SB 1596 that would allow, but not require, counties to offer early voting on the Sunday prior to election day. In general, SB 1596 includes less controversial proposals such as removing a prohibition approved last year that prevents poll workers from using the address on a voter’s photo identification to confirm the voter’s legal residence and updating rules for campaign advertisements and campaign accounts.

Several components of the 2011 election laws are under federal government review.