The NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union have sent letters to the federal Justice Department saying a set of changes to Florida election law violates Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning submitted the documents for preclearance under Section 5 earlier this month. Other groups now get to weigh in with the Justice Department before it makes its final decision.

Here’s a part of what the ACLU said about changes to early voting:

The changes in HB 1355 will significantly reduce the opportunities for early voting and have an adverse racial impact.  Since Florida initiated early voting, African Americans constitute a higher percentage of early voters in Florida than is their proportion of the voting age population.  While African Americans are more likely to use early voting, whites are more likely to cast absentee ballots.  For example, in the 2008 general election, 2.1 million Floridians voted early.  African Americans cast 22% of the early votes, though they comprised only about 13% of the electorate.  Nearly 54% of the African American who voted cast ballots before Election Day at early-voting sites.  In contrast, only 27% of white voters used the early-voting sites.

In the five Florida counties covered by Section 5 (Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe) African Americans were 12.15% of the voting age population, but were 18.86% of the early voters in the 2008 general election.  During the first week of early voting, African Americans were an even larger percentage of early voters – 20.08% – in the covered counties.  See Florida Division of Elections Early Voting Report; Florida Voter Registration File; U.S. Census Bureau.  Reducing the days for early voting will have an obvious disparate impact upon African Americans.

The full letter can be found here (.pdf). The NAACP’s letter can be found here (.pdf).

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