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Feds give final OK for 8 early voting days, state says

Gov. Rick Scott's administration has announced that the U.S. Department of Justice has given its final OK for Florida's new eight-day schedule of early voting in five counties that are under federal civil rights supervision, ending 15 months of costly and contentious litigation.

The Department of State issued a statement that said DOJ approved the new early voting timetable "without condition" late Wednesday. That includes allowing Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry counties to provide eight days of early voting for 12 hours each, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, from Oct. 27 through Nov. 3. The federal action essentially means that President Barack Obama's administration does not view the new early voting schedule as abridging the rights of black voters under the federal Voting Rights Act. 

The old law allowed up to 14 days of early voting, including on the Sunday immediately preceding an election, which encouraged African-American clergy to provide transportation for voters to vote immediately after church. The new law prohibits early voting on that day but mandates early voting on the previous Sunday (Oct. 28).  

"The federal approval of the early voting changes completes the federal approval process for all 80 sections of the 2011 elections bill (HB 1355)," the state said. "Every section can now be implemented statewide in future elections." 

Scott's chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, called the approval "a tremendous victory for Florida voters," promising "more flexibility to vote, more accountability and faster reporting times on Election Day."

-- Steve Bousquet