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Federal judge dismisses challenge to Florida early voting law amendment

A judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that Florida does not have to provide 96 hours of early voting for the November elections. Under a 2004 version of the state's early voting statute, the early voting period lasted 12 to 14 days with 96 hours of early voting. The statute was amended in 2011 when Governor Rick Scott signed an amendment [text] decreasing the days of early voting to eight with 48 to 96 hours of early voting. The amended version also prescribed that the voting period should end on the final Saturday before the elections rather than Sunday. The challenge was filed by US Congresswoman Corrine Brown (D-FL) [official website] and numerous African American leaders and voters who argued that the 2011 amendments were enacted "with the intent to discriminate against minority voters, or that Florida's current Early Voting Statute operates to deny or abridge African Americans' right to vote on account of their race." The court rejected this argument reasoning that the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that they are most likely to prevail in their claims. Particularly, the court noted that plaintiffs were not able to show the unequal access to voting based on race that could arise out of the amendment's allocation of days and hours. The court added that the order to deny plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction will not end the lawsuit but that both parties would have the opportunity to further develop their record until December 14.

Lawsuits challenging voting rules have been filed in various states in the run up to the November presidential election. Earlier this month Ohio officials asked [JURIST report] a federal appeals court to overturn a lower court ruling requiring Ohio's three-day early voting to be available to military and civilians alike. The appeal came after the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio [official website] declared [JURIST report] the Ohio Revised Code section 3509.03 unconstitutional in violation of the Equal Protection Clause [LII Backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. In August the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] unanimously rejected [JURIST report] a Texas law requiring voters to present photo identification to election officials before casting their ballots.

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