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In 2008, more than half the African-American voters in Florida who participated in the historic election of President Barack Obama did it by voting early.

In the state's largest counties, with the highest number of black voters, many voters went to the early voting sites on the Sunday before Election Day.

Now, under a new law — passed by a Republican Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott last month — that early voting period has been cut from 14 days to eight days. And the Sunday voting, before Election Day, has been eliminated.

Democrats and other critics say the changes — which are just part of a sweeping elections law that also revamps voter registration, petition drives and other voting issues — are designed to raise barriers to potential Democratic votes in the nation's largest battleground state heading into the 2012 presidential election. They contend the law will have a disproportionate impact on black voters.

An analysis of state election records by the Florida Democratic Party showed that in 2008, 1.1 million black voters participated in the general election, in which they had the opportunity to elect the country's first African-American president.

Nearly 54 percent of those voters cast ballots before Election Day at early-voting sites. The figure does not include the 13.6 percent who cast absentee ballots.

In contrast, only 27 percent of the white voters used the early-voting sites, with another 25 percent using absentee ballots. Some 32.5 percent of Hispanic voters participated in early voting.

Independent elections experts say Florida's decision to shorten its early-voting period may be particularly vulnerable to a legal challenge because of the data showing changes to that system could discriminate against black voters.

Last week, Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning asked the U.S. Department of Justice to endorse the law since the state needs federal approval, known as preclearance, for changing its elections laws in five counties that have had a history of voting problems.

The five counties that require preclearance are Hillsborough, Hendry, Collier, Hardee and Monroe.

The preclearance is part of the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 federal law that banned discriminatory voting practices, including those that were historically aimed at black voters in the South. (more)

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Article by LLOYD DUNKELBERGER, | Read full article here