TALLAHASSEE -- Florida is asking a federal court to approve eight 12-hour days of early voting in five counties, saying it would not harm African-American voters.
Gov. Rick Scott’s administration filed papers with U.S. District Court in Washington, saying that 96 hours of early voting, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for eight days, including a Sunday, would comply with the Voting Rights Act.
Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee and Hendry counties agreed in writing to hold eight 12-hour days of early voting in an effort to win statewide approval of the new schedule from a panel of three federal judges.
Those four counties and Monroe, in the Florida Keys, cannot implement changes to voting without federal approval so that minority voters are protected from discrimination.
The state acted despite Monroe County’s refusal to join the other four counties in the state’s request. Monroe wants 12 days of early voting for eight hours each day, saying that is better for Keys voters.
The court itself suggested the 12-hour schedule as a way for Florida to secure preclearance in the five counties, a process that began last year.
Three federal judges last week denied the state’s petition for preclearance, saying the new law allowed a minimum of 48 hours of early voting that would discourage African Americans from voting.
“Having invited Florida to bring such a plan to the court for review, the court should permit this amendment,” the state said in court papers.
The state’s request applies only to the five preclearance counties. Elsewhere, county supervisors of election still have the discretion to schedule early voting, from a minimum of 48 hours, or six hours a day for eight days, to a maximum of 96 (12 hours a day for eight days).
The new law, unlike the old, requires that early voting be held on one Sunday, Oct. 28.
The Legislature last year adopted the eight-day timetable in place of what was 14 days of early voting — a decision that sparked claims of voter suppression and lawsuits from civil rights and voter advocacy groups and Democrats.
In four of the past five statewide elections, blacks were much more likely than whites to vote early.
Democrats criticized Scott for the state’s latest legal move.
Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, the incoming House Democratic leader, said the eight-day, 12-hour plan “fails to give adequate flexibility to meet the real-life needs of voters ... Once more, Gov. Scott is trampling on the rights of Floridians.”
Scott spokesman Lane Wright said the new law provides more flexibility by allowing early voting sites to stay open later.
“Early voting is now more flexible than it was before the law changed,” Wright said.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.