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State Applies For Second Chance At Federal Approval on Early Voting Changes

Florida’s top elections officials are asking a federal court to approve changes in Florida’s early voting rules. The court ruled against the change earlier, but said it would likely grant pre-clearance if the five counties involved agreed to hold early voting for the maximum number of hours allowed under the new rule. Now, all but one county has agreed to the change.

Because of a history of discrimination, five Florida counties have to get approval from the federal government before they can make changes in the way they hold elections. Officials have filed paper work asking a federal court to give four Florida counties permission to start operating under the state’s new early voting rules. Department of State spokesman Chris Cate said those are the four counties that have promised to hold early voting for the maximum number of hours they can, if the new rule is implemented.

“We recently got a ruling from the court that said it couldn’t pre-clear and approve Florida’s early voting laws without knowing what exact hours the five pre-clearance counties were going to use. So, we went back to the counties and asked them what hours they were planning to offer for the general election and four of the counties told us they were going to use the maximum number of hours so yesterday we provided that information to the court so the court can now make a ruling on the actual number of hours,” Cate said.

One of the pre-clearance counties, Monroe County, has not agreed to the change. The county’s elections supervisor Harry Sawyer said he doesn’t think the new rules will serve the voters in his area as well.

“It’s not as beneficial as working and having access on a daily basis to this process. You’re limiting the days, which I think in turn limits access,” Sawyer said.

Though not all elections officials agree with Sawyer. Tim Durham is the chief deputy supervisor of elections in Collier County, another of the counties that requires pre-clearance. He thinks the new early voting rules would give people more access to the polls.

Definitely for voters that are working a standard work schedule, people that are working the 9-5 jobs would definitely benefit,” Durham said.

The Department of State’s Chris Cate said the court has a few options. He said it could decide to deny approval of the new law, could grant approval for the new rules, or could give pre-clearance for just the four counties that have agreed to hold early voting for the maximum number of hours. Meanwhile Florida Governor Rick Scott has hinted he’s ready to remove Sawyer in Monroe County in order to get the law cleared for use across the state.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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