Monroe County will switch to 12-hour early voting, if court approves


Monroe will follow the law if a court approves an eight-day early voting schedule.

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Monroe County says it will end its holdout in an early-voting stalemate if a court rules that the state's new eight-day schedule does not discriminate against African-American voters.

Monroe is one of five counties that cannot switch from 14 days of early voting to eight, as the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott have ordered, unless three federal judges rule that the change would not discourage blacks from voting.

The other four — Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee and Hendry — have told the three-judge panel they will conduct early voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for eight days, the maximum number of hours permitted by law.

The three-judge panel suggested that timetable as one way that the state might convince the court that fewer days of early voting does not disenfranchise black voters in Florida.

A decision by the court is expected this month.

In a statement to the court, Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer Jr. insisted that the reduction of early voting days would have a "retrogressive impact on minority voters." But he said: "If the court preclears the early voting change for Florida, I will follow the requirements of the law, as I have for nearly two-and-a-half decades."

Sawyer also told the judges that Scott "has publicly stated to the press that I may be removed from my elected office if I do not capitulate."

Scott never said that publicly, but did say he would take any steps necessary to ensure that the new eight-day schedule is implemented statewide.

State officials want all 67 counties operating under a uniform early voting schedule. The new timetable truncates the number of days, but mandates early voting on a Sunday (Oct. 28), which the law did not.

Sawyer said he prepared his statement with the assistance of Julie Ebenstein, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Miami.

Sawyer, a Republican who is not running for re-election, drew the wrath of Scott for his refusal to comply with a state request to commit in writing to 12-hour days of early voting.

Sawyer insisted that more days of early voting and for fewer hours better serves voters in the elongated, 130-mile-long of small islands that make up the Keys.

In an interview Wednesday, he said he resented Scott and state elections officials interfering in the administration of an election, which he said is a local responsibility.

"I don't think the governor has any business sticking his nose in elections," Sawyer said.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner's office issued a statement that said: "We are very pleased to be another step closer to having every county in Florida utilizing the new early voting hours, which offer more flexibility."

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