This year, Florida has operated under a two-tiered system for voting. Counties not covered by the Voting Rights Act have held elections with the state's newly narrowed window for early voting. The five counties covered by the Voting Rights Act have continued with the old system of 14 days, including some weekend hours.
The result, write Dan Smith and Michael Herron of ElectionSmith, is our first glimpse of the effect early voting has on turnout. In short, the Voting Rights counties historically have lower turnout than the others, but the gap narrows when early voting is in effect – from 5.66 percent in 2008 under the old system to 3.23 percent this year. From ElectionSmith:
So, what are we to make of this? Admittedly, the turnout gap between the five Section 5 and the other 62 counties is not huge, but it is indicative that HB 1355 may be depressing turnout in those counties that must comply with the new, more restrictive law. And, it is certainly arguable that since registered voters in the five Section 5 counties have historically relied more heavily on early voting in past elections, and if early voting days and hours are reduced in those counties if HB 1355 is eventually upheld, their comparatively lower turnout levels might take even more of a hit.
The ElectionSmith post is a deep, geeky dive into an emerging story. They won't know until after the 2012 election the full impact of early voting.
Which has not stopped Governor Rick Scott's administration from trying to cut the number of days. Today the Florida Secretary of State got four of the five counties to sign on for fewer days, on the premise that county clerks can expand the number of hours each day. The state wants to use their assent to persuade a court that it's OK to narrow the window from 14 days to eight. The lone holdout county is in the Keys. From the Miami Herald:
"What I told them is that the days are more important than the hours," said Monroe County Supervisor of Elections Harry Sawyer, a Republican who has held the post for 24 years. In every election in the Keys, Sawyer said, early voting participation has increased. "It's working for us," he said. "I told them, if it's not broke, don't fix it.
Also today, six African-American members of the Florida legislature stopped by Scott's office to ask for a meeting so they could make the case for weekend voting. A Scott staffer told them the governor was busy today.