Congresswoman Corrine Brown, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference-Jacksonville chapter, several individual Duval residents, and the Duval County Democratic Executive Committee, will file a federal civil rights lawsuit to ensure that unconstitutional and discriminatory changes to the early voting laws are not implemented.
The August primaries will be the first time Florida is affected by the changes to early voting, which were passed by the state legislature last session. Early voting was instituted after the debacle of the 2000 elections when thousands were turned away from overcrowded polls. Since 2004, Floridians have had access to the polls for eight hours a day, for fifteen days right up until the last Sunday before election-day. The new law reduced early voting to ten days, gave county supervisors arbitrary discretion over the number of hours polls are open, and eliminated voting on the last Sunday.
The lawsuit asks the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Jacksonville to enjoin the Florida Secretary of State and Duval County Supervisor of Elections from enforcing the discriminatory and arbitrary changes to early voting in the state of Florida and in Duval County. Specifically, these changes violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States constitution, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. and 1973 (a) and the Florida constitution.
"Early voting has worked extremely well for all Floridians and especially for African American voters," said Congresswoman Brown. "In fact, more than any other racial or ethnic group, African Americans have come to rely on early voting."
According to Dr. Daniel A. Smith, Professor of Political Science and Research Professor at The University of Florida, in the 2008 general election, African Americans cast 22% percent of the total early vote, even though blacks comprised just 13% of the state's registered voters. More African Americans vote during the early voting period than on election-day or via absentee ballot combined. Perhaps most strikingly, in 2008, African Americans accounted for roughly 34% of votes cast on the Sunday before the election. These trends are amplified in Duval County where 58% of African Americans voted early in 2008. In last year's local elections, African Americans cast roughly 34% of the early votes, even though they comprised less than 30% of the electorate, and on the final Sunday of early voting, more African Americans came to the polls than did whites. "There is absolutely no explanation for restricting early voting other than intentional voter suppression. In fact, it seems that Governor Scott simply does not want people to vote. We should be making it easier for people to get to the polls, not harder," the Congresswoman declared.
"It is particularly fitting that I am filing this lawsuit at The John Milton Bryan Simpson United States Courthouse," Congresswoman Brown pointed out. "I sponsored the bill that named this courthouse for Judge Simpson because he was a giant in the civil rights movement here in Jacksonville. Among other things, his orders led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and desegregated the schools, city pools, city golf courses, and the city zoo. I know Judge Simpson would not stand for such a blatant attempt to exclude African Americans from the polls."