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Congresswoman Brown Asks Court to Prevent Suppression of Minority Vote, Expand Early Voting

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Congresswoman Brown, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference-Jacksonville chapter, individual Duval residents, and the Duval County Democratic Executive Committee, filed a motion requesting a federal court order to expand early voting days and hours in order to reverse Republican efforts to suppress the minority vote.

A 2011 law reduced early voting to eight days from twelve, gave county supervisors wide discretion over the hours polls are open, and eliminated voting on the last Sunday before election-day. "A federal court in Washington already ruled that the new law violates the Voting Rights Act because minority voters disproportionately use early voting," Brown pointed out. In 2008, 54% of African American voters in Florida used early voting -- twice the rate of white voters.

Brown submitted an affidavit detailing how "[s]ome of my African American constituents are personally affected by the early voting restrictions, including individuals who work six days a week and can only vote on Sunday, or persons whose customary practice for many years has been to vote on the Sunday before Election Day because their church provided transportation to the polls after Sunday services and they had no other means to get to the polls."

The motion catalogs some of the reasons the state instituted early voting in 2004 in the first place. For example, in the 2000 Florida presidential election blacks were far more likely than non-blacks to have their ballots rejected. In Jacksonville that year, precincts with the highest percentage of black voters had the highest percentages of ballots declared invalid. Early was intended to and did reduce the crowding and confusion that led to disenfranchisement that disproportionately hurt African Americans in 2000.

The motion also points out how the early voting restrictions were rammed through the state Senate with no public comment and no study on its effects. Florida State Senator Mike Bennett said during the Senate Floor debate that he did not "want to make it easier for people to vote, but rather that it should be harder to vote--as it is in Africa." As previously reported, James Greer, former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, testified under oath that while Republican Party chair in December 2009, he met with party officials and "they talked about not letting blacks vote.

Since then, testimony from county election officials has acknowledged that shorter early voting hours will lead to long lines, overcrowding and confusion during early voting and election-day. Election supervisors testified that an extensive early voting period is necessary because Florida's "electoral infrastructure is completely maxed out."

"We should be making it easier to vote and there's no reason for these changes, except voter suppression," Brown said. The motion will be heard on September 19 by Judge Timothy Corrigan of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

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