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Federal Court Rejects Florida’s Early Voting Changes

8/17/12

(Washington, D.C.): A three-judge federal district court in Florida v. Holder rejected Florida’s proposal to dramatically reduce its early voting period in five counties, while approving a new voting requirement for registered voters who move between Florida counties and seek to vote in their new county of residence.

Because parts of Florida are covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, each of these voting changes were required to first be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C. before they could be implemented.

“The Court recognized that Florida failed to carry its burden under the Voting Rights Act of demonstrating that dramatically reducing its early voting period by nearly half would not be harmful to minority voters,” said Ryan P. Haygood, Director of the Political Participation Group at NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which intervened in this case on behalf of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and Black voters. “Black voters in Florida used the early voting period to vote in historic numbers in the 2008 elections, with more than half of them casting their ballots during that period.  The Voting Rights Act ensured that this important path to political participation for voters of color in Florida would remain open in this upcoming election.” 

“Our country is stronger when more Americans, not fewer, have a voice at the ballot box. We’ve seen elections decided by a few hundred votes. It’s imperative that every citizen have an opportunity to vote,” said Dale Ho, Assistant Counsel with NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Political Participation Group.

At the same time, the Court approved Florida’s request to implement a new rule providing that voters who move from one county to another, and then seek to change their address on Election Day, may only cast a provisional ballot. Voters who move within the same county will still be permitted to change their address on Election Day while casting a regular (non-provisional) ballot.  

As part of this lawsuit, Florida initially sought to impose severe new restrictions on organizations that conduct voter registration drives, such as the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, by requiring such organizations to submit completed voter registration forms within 48 hours or face substantial fines.  

The Florida State Conference NAACP presented evidence and gave testimony in a separate lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee, which led that court to block the most onerous new restrictions. 

LDF represents Black voters in several additional voting rights cases, including Texas v. Holder and South Carolina v. Holder, cases involving discriminatory photo ID measures in Texas and South Carolina, respectively; and Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a case challenging the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. Shelby County, which earlier lost its constitutional challenge, is seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the NAACP co-authored a report entitled “Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America” detailing the many state laws that have been passed that were designed to restrict the ballot access of people of color.

Read the Court's opinion.