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COLLIER COUNTY — Early voting sites in Collier County must be open for the same number of hours as in years past, but the time can be condensed into fewer days to comply with a change in state voting laws, a federal panel of judges told the county Wednesday.
Starting Oct. 27 and ending Nov. 3, polls in Collier County will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., giving early voters 96 hours to cast votes in advance. The number of hours satisfy federal requirements that voting laws not discriminate against Collier County minorities.
A major voting law passed in 2011 by state legislators last year cut the number of available early voting days. Depending on the county, some areas could have seen the number of early voting hours reduced from 96 to as few as 48. Activist groups opposing the 2011 law said it suppresses voting, particularly among blocs that tend to vote for Democrats.
Tim Durham, the county's deputy supervisor of elections, said the new hours could make it easier for residents to cast early votes.
"For people working a conventional 8-to-5 work day, it gives them a better opportunity to vote," Durham said. "It also means that for the first time in Collier County's case, we'll have early voting on a Sunday."
Most Florida counties have gone to eight days of early voting, down from 12 in years past. But before making any changes, Collier County needed federal approval under 1965 voting rights law that prevents discrimination. Four other counties — Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe — are covered under the same 1965 law.
Durham said county staff have been working behind the scenes to prepare for the change, expecting the panel's ruling. Poll workers will likely face the biggest adjustment, now working 12 hours instead of eight.
"The initial feedback we're getting is they're enthusiastic and ready to make it work," Durham said.