Early voting begins Monday in Collier, that's earlier than in Lee

NewsMakers: Jennifer Edwards

Early voting starts Monday for Aug. 14 ...

— A decades-old law means Collier County will have to keep its early voting sites open for more days than most Florida counties this primary season.

Early voting begins Monday in Collier County and runs through Aug. 11. That schedule is considerably longer than in the majority of counties across the state, including Lee County, which starts early voting on Aug. 4.

The longer-than-most schedule wasn't necessarily the choice of Collier election officials. Instead, they said the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires that counties covered by the act must get federal pre-approval, or preclearance, for election law changes.

State legislators last year approved changes to the state's election laws. Those changes, among other modifications, cut back the number of early voting days.

"All of the rest of the legislation, which had a lot of election reform, was approved," said Tim Durham, Collier's chief deputy supervisor of elections. "But until the early voting piece gets approved by a federal judge, Collier County is frozen into the old early voting scheme, not the new compressed early voting."

Collier County fell under the Voting Rights Act beginning in 1976 in part because the county didn't provide voter registration and other election materials in Spanish, something Durham said wasn't required at the time.

The state or county can submit a request to the U.S. Department of Justice to be removed from the preclearance list by showing it has had 10 years without any infractions.

That doesn't necessarily mean voters in Collier and the four other counties — Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe — get more time to vote. Durham said while the condensed schedule has fewer days, the state law gave election officials the latitude to keep the polls open up to 12 hours a day.

"It's long in days, but the hours can be the same," Durham said.

Still, the fact that some counties will have more early voting days than others has prompted some Democrats to file a federal lawsuit alleging the changes are discriminatory.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, announced Friday that she filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville. She and other plaintiffs want a judge to block the state and Duval County elections supervisor from enforcing the changes made to Florida law last year, when the number of early voting days was reduced.

Brown's lawsuit alleges that the changes violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

Just because the polls can be open for 12 hours a day, it doesn't mean they will be.

Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington said because the August election is a primary and the county isn't expecting to get a massive amount of voters, voting sites in her county will not open the full 12 hours for early voting.

"Lee County is going to stick to eight hours (a day) for eight days," she said.

Lee County also will offer voters a chance to vote on a Sunday; polls won't be open Sundays in Collier County.

Under the prior early voting scheme, counties were required to offer voting a total of eight hours during the weekend. In Collier County that has meant a full day of voting Saturday, with polling places closed Sunday. That plan will hold true again this year.

Election officials in both counties said they didn't think the differing schedules would have any effect on the number of ballots cast during early voting. Early voting numbers have consistently been on the rise, and election officials said they don't think that will change.

"It's growing," Harrington said. "Every time we have an election it seems that more and more people are coming out."

__ The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 1

ajm3s writes:

And vote NO for the 24/7 clinic special tax district!

Now compare and contrast to the recommendation provided by the editor of the Marco Island Eagle. His rationale is to keep the conversation going?

http://www.marconews.com/news/2012/ju...

Truly a misguided editor, to believe that creating a special taxing district is the best and only solution to 24/7 care on a barrier island. Truly myopic! And this is the collective wisdom collective of the Marco Eagle?

This proposal is not only non-binding but also ill conceived. And depressingly the only proposal? There are a host of alternatives that are not being discussed nor brought before the voters in the form of a referendum. Why? [because taxation is addictive].

I can list a host of other costly items that voters have asked to be brought to a referendum vote, but clearly they were NOT. Why does the city and council say NO to the voters with regard to other costly issues, as when citizens in a public forum request a community center expansion be brought to a referendum vote? This naysayer community is now growing and running rampant to include the city! Interestingly, the city does not like folks impacting costs associated with expansion, especially a dialog in an open forum and put to a referendum vote!

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