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In court, Florida Republicans oppose more early voting days

Florida's fight over early voting is moving to a new venue -- a courtroom in Jacksonville.

Eight weeks before Election Day, as the state seeks federal approval of its new eight-day, 96-hour early voting timetable, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, wants a federal judge to return early voting to its old 14-day schedule. That, Brown argues in court papers, would allow African-American churches to mobilize black voters on the Sunday that immediately precedes the election.

The new schedule, approved by a Republican Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, requires early voting on the Sunday that falls nine days before the election, but prohibits it on the Sunday that falls closest to the election.   

In response to Brown's lawsuit, leaders of three county Republican parties in Florida have filed statements with the court opposing expansion of early voting beyond eight days, saying it would disrupt their get-out-the-vote efforts. The GOP leaders --  Richard DeNapoli in Broward, Joe Gruters in Sarasota and Leslie Doughey of Clay County -- all submitted identical declarations, saying an expansion of early voting would be disruptive and siphon precious volunteers away from get-out-the-vote activities.

"The additional four days of early voting that would be allowed would cause significant prejudice to the Republican Party of (my) county," the Republican officials state, and "divert valuable resources away from other projects that the party had previously planned to undertake and use them to recruit, train and oversee employees and volunteers for the additional early voting days." 

Brown's Congressional office promptly issued a press release that said: "Republicans admit more early voting harms their interests., Brown was quoted as saying: "This motion confirms what we already know. Republicans don't want people to vote. There's no other explanation for their repeated attempts to restrict early voting."

A hearing on Brown's request for an injunction will be held Sept. 19.

The lawsuit by Brown, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Duval County Democratic Party and two local pastors, is before U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan in Jacksonville. Those groups argue in court papers that they "have selected the last Sunday before Election Day for a community-wide, sustained GOTV (get out the vote) campaign to mobilize voters ... Through the churches, African-Americans were encouraged to attend worship services and then go vote, with transportation being provided for those who needed it."

Scott's administration has extracted commitments from five Florida counties under federal civil rights oversight to provide the maximum amount of early voting (12 eight-hour days) to win another federal court's approval. The U.S. Justice Department has endorsed that plan.

The counties are Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry. Monroe agreed to the 96-hour timetable on the condition that the court first pre-clear the schedule, meaning that it would not hinder blacks' voting rights. 

-- Steve Bousquet