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Florida seeks court OK for eight early voting days

Florida is formally asking a panel of three federal judges to approve eight days of early voting in five counties under U.S. oversight for all voting changes.

The state filed a motion with the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., that includes emails from four of the five counties (Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee and Hendry). All four counties, working in conjunction with Gov. Rick Scott's administration, sent emails that said: "If the early voting changes in Chapter 2011-40 receive preclearance, (this) county would offer early voting for 12 hours per day on each day of the early voting period, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, for the November 2012 general election."

In its motion, the state emphasizes that under the new early voting scheme, early voting sites would be open for 12 hours on Sunday, Oct. 28. The old law did not require any early voting on Sunday, but required a total of eight hours on a weekend.  

The three-judge panel last week refused to grant pre-clearance in the five counties, saying that a reduction in days (and hours in many counties) would discourage African-American turnout. But the judges also suggested they would approve a new early voting schedule if it provided for the maximum 96 hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for all eight days, the maximum allowed under the new law (HB 1355) enacted last year and signed by Scott on May 19, 2011.  

The fifth county that is subject to preclearance, Monroe, has not agreed to the eight-day, 12-hours-a-day schedule. Monroe County Supervisor p_harry.jpgof Elections Harry Sawyer Jr. (right) says Keys voters are better served under the old law, which allowed up to 14 days of early voting.

Monroe plans to offer 12 days of early voting for eight hours each day, which Sawyer defends by saying that until preclearance is granted, he is bound by the old law.   

The state's new motion indicates that it is requesting preclearance for Monroe as well, even though it says "Monroe County has not set an early voting schedule" for the Nov. 6 general election. But Monroe's early voting schedule is posted on its website,  

Now the ball is back in the three-judge panel's court. The judges must decide whether to pre-clear a controversial change in early voting when one county refuses to adopt it.

Sawyer, a Republican, has held the Keys elections post for 24 years and is not seeking re-election. 

Steve Bousquet