TALLAHASSEE — Days before early voting begins in Florida, a Democratic member of Congress wants a federal court to block the state from what she calls a racially motivated reduction in the days of early voting.
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville filed suit Friday in U.S. District Court along with the Duval County Democratic Party, several residents and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Brown says the reduction in early voting days unfairly discriminates against African-American voters and violates their constitutional rights. The lawsuit asks a judge to enjoin the state from implementing the new, shorter early voting schedule.
"More than any other racial or ethnic group, African-Americans have come to rely on early voting," Brown said.
Although the changes to early voting adopted by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 cut the number of early voting days from 14 to eight, the maximum number of hours of potential early voting remains the same: 96.
In most areas of the state, early voting for the Aug. 14 primary begins Aug. 4 and will end Aug. 11. The new law, unlike the old one, prohibits early voting on the Sunday before the primary but requires early voting on the previous Sunday, which the old law did not.
However, five counties — Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee, Hendry and Monroe — will continue to offer 14 days of early voting because any voting-law changes in those counties must be approved by the federal government before they can take effect. A three-judge panel of federal judges in Washington has not ruled.
Early voting in Hillsborough begins Monday and will run for eight hours a day for 12 straight days, excluding Aug. 5.
But across the bay in Pinellas, early voting will begin Aug. 4, subjecting voters to different rules in adjacent counties in the same media market.
Because of the two sets of rules, Pinellas will offer early voting Aug. 5, but Hillsborough will not.
Former Secretary of State Kurt Browning ordered implementation of the early voting changes in 62 counties, a decision that some election supervisors continue to question months later.
"This is the first time I can recall that this state has ever deliberately chosen to run a statewide election using two different procedures," said Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, a Republican. "I am very concerned about it."
Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state's chief elections official, criticized both the logic and the timing of Brown's lawsuit so close to an election. Spokesman Chris Cate said the action "can only cause more harm than good by confusing voters."