A quick dispatch from the war on voting: a federal court in Florida has overturned state limits on early voting saying that the law would violate the civil rights of minorities in several counties.
Several counties in Florida are covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain areas with a history of racial discrimination to have changes to their election laws and procedures precleared by either a federal court or the Justice Department.
The three judge panel ruled that minorities “will be disproportionately affected by the changes in early voting procedures because they disproportionately use early in-person voting.”
“In sum, Florida is left with nothing to rebut either the testimony of the defendants’ witnesses or the common-sense judgment that a dramatic reduction in the form of voting that is disproportionately used by African-Americans would make it materially more difficult for some minority voters to cast a ballot than under the benchmark law,” the court ruled.
This lawsuit was made possible by the Justice Department’s pre-clearance authority under the Voting Rights Act in areas with historic patterns of discrimination. They do not have that power in states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which have instituted voter ID laws that are currently being challenged in state courts. Since this was a VRA violation, a federal judge heard the Florida case.
The court in Florida v. Holder did approve one state law that forces residents who move between counties and try to vote in their new county of residence to cast a provisional ballot. Other Florida voting laws, like the restrictions on registration drives, have been thrown out separately in a different federal court case.
But there is at least one voting restriction left to drop in Florida – the voter purge, which Governor Rick Scott said he would implement soon, despite there being only 81 days left until the 2012 election.
Dale Ho of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which intervened in this case, said in a statement, “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.”
African-American voters used early voting in 2008 in wide numbers, with over half of Florida African-Americans casting their ballot in the early voting period. Many black churches held voter drives to encourage their parishioners to vote after Sunday prayers. So keeping the early voting period robust has a positive impact in these communities, especially considering the difficulties that face working people trying to vote on a Tuesday.