Saturday, June 16, 2018
Politics

U.S. Justice Department okays Florida early voting plan for five counties

TALLAHASSEE — The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday endorsed eight 12-hour days of early voting in five key Florida counties, including Hillsborough and Monroe, all but ending a long-running legal battle that threatened to disrupt the November election.

Attorney General Eric Holder filed a motion with a panel of three judges in Washington, D.C., saying that the government supports judicial approval of Florida's shorter early voting schedule, as long as the five counties offer the maximum possible hours of early voting: 96 over eight days, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

"The United States does not oppose judicial preclearance of the early voting plans submitted for the covered counties," the government said.

Pending the judges' approval, early voting in Florida will begin Oct. 27 and end Nov. 3 and will be held on one Sunday, Oct. 28. The new law prohibits early voting on the Sunday just prior to the election.

Democrats and voter advocacy groups had criticized the shortened early voting schedule, calling it part of a broader Republican strategy to suppress turnout in Florida. The issue of early voting is highly charged because statistics show it is most popular among black voters, a crucial voting bloc in the presidential election in Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott's chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, called the latest federal action "the most significant sign to date that Florida's new early voting laws are fair and can be implemented statewide."

The judges themselves had suggested the timetable as a way of resolving a legal confrontation that has dragged on for more than a year. Anything less than 96 hours, they ruled last month, would disenfranchise African-American voters in the nation's largest battleground state.

Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry counties are under federal oversight to ensure that changes to voting laws do not discriminate based on race. They had been operating under the old law, which allowed up to 14 days of early voting.

What broke the legal logjam was Monroe County's statement to the court that it would offer the full 96 hours of early voting in the Florida Keys if the judges approved that timetable.

Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer Jr. insisted that the reduction of early voting days would have a "retrogressive impact on minority voters." But he added: "If the court pre-clears the early voting change for Florida, I will follow the requirements of the law, as I have for nearly two-and-a-half decades."

Sawyer said he prepared his statement with the help of Julie Ebenstein, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Miami.

Sawyer, a Republican who's not running for re-election, drew Scott's wrath for refusing to join the other four counties in agreeing to eight 12-hour early voting days.

Sawyer insisted that more days of early voting and for fewer hours better serves the voters in the elongated Keys. He said he resented Scott and state elections officials interfering in the handling of an election, which he called a local responsibility.

"I don't think the governor has any business sticking his nose in elections," Sawyer said.

The state Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, rewrote Florida's voting laws last year and reduced the days of early voting from 14 to eight.

When the state asked the three judges to approve the change, the Justice Department, backed by the ACLU and other groups, formally objected.

In their ruling last month, the judges noted that under the new law, county supervisors of election could legally offer as few as 48 hours of early voting, or six hours a day for eight days.

"This dramatic reduction in a form of voting disproportionately used by African-Americans would be analogous to (although certainly not the same as) closing polling places in disproportionately African-American precincts," the judges wrote.

State officials have insisted that all 67 counties operate under the same early voting schedule to minimize confusion and avoid potential legal problems due to a lack of uniformity in voting procedures.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Comments
GOP lawmakers decry family separations as WH defends policy

GOP lawmakers decry family separations as WH defends policy

WASHINGTON ó Congressional Republicans distanced themselves Thursday from the Trump administrationís aggressive policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border even as the White House cited the Bible in defending its "zero tol...
Published: 06/14/18
Sarah Sanders and  Raj Shah are planning to step down, per CBS report

Sarah Sanders and Raj Shah are planning to step down, per CBS report

Press secretary Sarah Sanders and principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah are considering stepping down, according to a CBS report. Sanders promptly responded in a Tweet saying, "I love my job and am honored to work for @POTUS." Does @CBSNews k...
Published: 06/13/18
Updated: 06/14/18
Fed raises key rate and sees possible acceleration in hikes

Fed raises key rate and sees possible acceleration in hikes

WASHINGTON ó The Federal Reserve has raised its benchmark interest rate for the second time this year and signaled that it may step up its pace of rate increases because of solid economic growth and rising inflation. The Fed now foresees four rate hi...
Published: 06/13/18
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister hits $1 million mark in first bid for election

Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister hits $1 million mark in first bid for election

TAMPA ó Law enforcement officers never want to be outgunned. Neither do political candidates.Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister need not worry.The Republican candidate has amassed what appears to be a record-sized war chest of just more than $1 mil...
Published: 06/12/18
Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

So the Supreme Court is in favor of voter suppression.Or is it election integrity?I suppose your interpretation depends on your party affiliation.Liberals seem convinced that an Ohio voting law upheld by the Supreme Court on Monday is a devious plot ...
Published: 06/12/18
Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

Romano: It ainít voter suppression if you bother to show up

So the Supreme Court is in favor of voter suppression.Or is it election integrity?I suppose your interpretation depends on your party affiliation.Liberals seem convinced that an Ohio voting law upheld by the Supreme Court on Monday is a devious plot ...
Published: 06/12/18
Trumpís tougher Cuba policy having little impact on Tampa area

Trumpís tougher Cuba policy having little impact on Tampa area

TAMPA ó June 16 will mark a year since President Trump announced a tougher Cuba travel policy, but unlike in much of the nation, the changes donít seem to have hurt local bookings to the island.The number of people traveling between Tampa and Havana ...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/13/18
Trump, Kim Jong Un arrive in Singapore for historic summit

Trump, Kim Jong Un arrive in Singapore for historic summit

SINGAPORE - President Donald Trump arrived here Sunday night ahead of a potentially historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the first meeting between the leaders of two countries that have been sworn enemies for almost seven decades.Air...
Published: 06/11/18
Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump made at least $82 million in outside income last year while serving in the White House, filings show

Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump made at least $82 million in outside income last year while serving in the White House, filings show

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the presidentís daughter and son-in-law, brought in at least $82 millionvin outside income while serving as senior White House advisers during 2017, according to new financial disclosure forms released Monday.Ivanka Tr...
Published: 06/11/18
Supreme Court allows Ohio voter purge

Supreme Court allows Ohio voter purge

WASHINGTON ó The Supreme Court is allowing Ohio to clean up its voting rolls by targeting people who havenít cast ballots in a while. The justices rejected, by a 5-4 vote Monday, arguments that the practice violates a federal law intended to increase...
Published: 06/11/18