Judges Won't Give Pass to Florida Voting Changes

     WASHINGTON (CN) - Florida failed to prove that changes to its early voting procedures will not harm minority voters, a federal three-judge panel ruled.
     Though the panel refused preclearance for the state's early voting changes, the judges did clear Florida's proposed changes to its intercounty voting procedure. Voters who have moved from an outside county can no longer change their addresses at their new polling places to cast a regular ballot. They must instead cast provisional ballots.
     Florida made 80 changes to its voting laws in 2011 and received preclearance for all but four changes. The judges addressed two of the changes in a 157-page ruling, and said they would soon address proposed changes to requirements for third-party voter-registration organizations.
     Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires Florida to seek preclearance for changes to its voting laws to ensure protection of minority voters. The state has five counties covered under the law.
     "Specifically, the state has not proven that the changes will be nonretrogressive if the covered counties offer only the minimum number of early voting hours that they are required to offer under the new statute, which would constitute only half the hours required under the prior law," the ruling states.
     Under the old law, Floridians could vote in person for 14 days prior to an election. The law required each county to offer early voting for exactly eight hours a day, totaling 96 hours of early voting. The new law slashes the number of days and hours available for early voting, and changes the specific hours and weekend times that early voting is allowed.
     "As a result, Florida's covered counties might still offer the same total hours of early voting (96 hours) that were required under the pre-2011 law, but only if their local election supervisors decide to offer the maximum 12 hours of early voting on each of the 8 days," the ruling explains. "If, on the other hand, a local supervisor chooses to offer the minimum number of hours (i.e., 6 hours per day), then the early voting period would last only 48 hours in total - exactly half of the hours that were offered under the prior law."
     Though the state failed to clear its law, the judges added that the changes would likely pass "if Florida and the covered counties were to submit a preclearance plan that offered early voting for the maximum number of hours authorized by the new statute, which would be exactly the same number as under the prior law, and did so on a standard 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule."