TALLAHASSEE — A federal judge refused Monday to halt Florida's plan to cut the number of early voting days from 14 days to eight days.
Judge Timothy Corrigan ruled there was not enough proof to show that the change approved last year by the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature would harm black Americans' right to vote.
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., along with the Duval County Democratic Party and a civil rights group, challenged the law this summer in federal court. Their lawsuit contended the change was discriminatory because blacks have voted early in higher percentages, especially during the 2008 election in which President Barack Obama carried Florida. They were especially critical of the new law because it eliminates early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, when black churches would organize "souls to the polls" drives.
Corrigan, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, stated that while he acknowledged the "understandable concerns about how the change in the law might impact African-American voters, the court concludes that the new law will not impermissibly burden the ability of African-Americans to vote."
Corrigan added that while there was not much information about why lawmakers made the change, he could not conclude that it was done to discriminate. He also pointed out that most urban counties plan to offer 96 hours of early voting, including 12 hours on the Sunday two weekends before Election Day.
"The new statute will actually serve to increase the availability of Sunday voting," Corrigan wrote.
Brown issued a statement saying she was disappointed with the ruling but that she plans to hold voter registration drives, including one with the Rev. Al Sharpton, to urge people to register in advance of the November election.
"I think it is evident that early voting has worked extremely well for African-American voters," Brown said. "In fact, more than any other racial or ethnic group, African-Americans have come to rely on early voting, and I am sure they will do so again this year."
The decision does not mean the lawsuit is over, but it means there is little chance that Florida's early voting period for this presidential election will return to the 14 days that it was four years ago.