JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Florida's most populous counties - including those in South Florida - are planning to hold 12 hours of early voting a day leading up to the crucial presidential election.
But nearly half the state's counties will not hold the maximum amount of early voting hours, according to a court filing made by the Secretary of State's office.
Florida was asked to provide the information before a Wednesday hearing in federal court.
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., as well as a civil rights group and the Duval County Democratic Party, are asking a judge to block a law that reduces early voting days.
Brown and the others contend the law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that cut the number of days from 14 to eight discriminates against blacks because they vote early in large percentages.
Lawyers for Secretary of State Ken Detzner contend that no one has proven that the change will harm minorities, especially since the law still provides for the same total number of hours available for early voting. They have also criticized filing the lawsuit on the eve of the election when the law was passed more than a year ago.
The new law not only cut back on the number of days available for early voting, but it also eliminated early voting on the Sunday prior to Election Day, which is when many black churches would organize "souls to the polls" events to take parishioners to early voting locations.
The federal judge handling the case ordered the state to provide information about early voting.
The information gathered by state election officials show that 32 counties - including Brevard on Florida's east coast and Osceola in Central Florida - will not hold the full amount of hours available under the new law. Brevard County only plans to offer early voting for 68 hours, while Osceola County will have 91 hours of voting.
But the state's bigger counties - and which have large concentrations of Democratic voters - do plan to hold 12 hours a day of early voting for eight days.
These include the three counties in South Florida, as well as Duval County in northeast Florida and most of the counties along the Interstate 4 corridor in Central Florida. Two counties that have large concentrations of student voters due to the presence of the University of Florida, Florida State University and Florida A&M University have also told the state they will hold 96 hours of early voting.
The administration of President Barack Obama has already signed off on a proposal that calls for 96 hours of early voting in five Florida counties covered by the federal Voting Rights Act including Hillsborough County in the Tampa Bay area.
A federal court in Washington refused initially to approve the state's move to cut back on early voting days in those counties, saying it could discourage minority voting, especially among black voters. The court said that evidence presented in the case clearly showed that black voters utilized early voting much more than white voters, especially in the 2008 election, when Obama carried Florida.
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