The state of Florida scored an important legal victory on Wednesday when the U.S. Department of Justice endorsed a timetable of eight 12-hour days of early voting. The federal action all but ends a long-running legal battle that threatened to disrupt the November election. A panel of three federal judges in Washington, D.C., now is expected to approve the timetable for use in the upcoming presidential election.
Attorney General Eric Holder filed papers with the U.S. District Court in Washington, stating that the government "does not oppose judicial preclearance" of the new early voting schedule in five counties that are under federal civil rights jurisdiction: Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry.
Gov. Rick Scott's chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, called the government's action "the most significant sign to date that Florida's new voting laws are fair and can be implemented statewide."
Democrats and voter advocacy groups criticized the Legislature for last year's decision to shorten the early voting schedule from 14 days to eight, calling it a scheme to suppress turnout. Statistics show black voters especially like the convenience of early voting.
The three-judge panel itself suggested the 96 hour timetable, provided the five counties open early voting centers from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Anything less than that, the judges said in an Aug. 16 ruling, threatened to disenfranchise black voters in Florida.
-- Steve Bousquet