Early voting in Hillsborough will begin Oct. 22, five days sooner than in Pinellas.
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark said it is wrong for the state to have two different early voting systems in the same statewide election.
“This is a great step backwards,” Clark said. “I would much prefer that we have the same procedures, because it’s the same election.”
Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard said he had no opinion about the judges’ reasoning, and that the decision brings clarity to the future early voting schedule.
“I can move forward with planning and implementing early voting under the old calendar, rather than the new calendar,” Lennard said.
The judges did approve a requirement in the five counties that voters who change their address when they vote must cast a provisional ballot.
The judges who decided the case were Merrick Garland, Ellen Huvelle and Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.
In reviewing the Legislature’s actions, they cited a floor speech by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, who favored the new early voting schedule and that it should be harder to vote, as it is “in Africa,” where people might walk 200 miles to vote.” PolitiFact Florida found that claim to be Pants on Fire.
“Whether or not Senator Bennett actually intended his statement to have racial undertones, it certainly can be read that way,” the judges wrote.
But the judges said that because no other lawmaker made a similar statement, Bennett’s remark is “too slim a reed” upon which to claim that the Legislature intended to discriminate against black voters.
The governor’s lawyers are reviewing the ruling and are working on a compromise “that will find the best way to make the court happy” and sustain the intent of the law, said Brian Burgess, the governor’s communications director.
Herald/Times staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.