The Monroe County supervisor of elections is concerned that a plan to shorten the number of early voting days in Monroe County will be cleared, despite a three-judge panel ruling that the plan violated the federal voting and discrimination laws in place in Monroe and four other Florida counties.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder agreed Wednesday to accept Florida's revised early-voting plan for the five counties covered by the federal Voting Rights Act. Holder's announcement comes as a response to a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. Last month, the panel ruled that a new Florida election law that reduced early voting to eight days from as many as 14 violated the federal law in the designated counties because they could discourage minority voting.
The new elections laws have been controversial and opposed by Monroe County Supervisor of Election Harry Sawyer, other supervisors of elections and civic groups, such as the ACLU and the League of Women Voters.
Justice Department or federal court preclearance is required for any changes in election laws affecting five Florida counties -- Hillsborough, Collier, Hendry, Hardee and Monroe -- because of past racial discrimination.
Sawyer, a staunch supporter of early voting, has been the only one of the five supervisors in the respective counties to not implement the new election law. On Aug. 31, though, he filed a court statement, arguing that he still opposes the state's plan but would comply if it is approved by the three-judge panel.
On Friday, he drafted a response to Holder outlining his concerns, in which he stated "I strongly object to this."
Sawyer fears the court will "kick the decision up to the Justice Department and they will preclear it," he told the Citizen on Friday.
"Then I will have to implement it," Sawyer said.
Sawyer retires in January, but even after he retires, he plans to still fight to keep the early voting days the same, he said. He will speak to local and statewide voting right's groups and political action committees such as Hometown PAC. Hometown PAC holds several campaign forums each election year.
He called on voters to send letters to their state senators and house representatives urging them to file legislation overturning the new voting laws.
"I am going to continue to fight this," Sawyer said. "I am going to keep this alive."
Sawyer's stance has put him at odds with his own political party, the Republicans, and with Gov. Rick Scott. However, it has made him a hero among voting groups and he has been mentioned on several national television and radio shows.
The state Legislature passed a bill that calls for fewer early voting days, but keeps the voting offices open for later hours, for a total of 96 hours. Sawyer has offered to hold 12, eight-hour days of early voting, which also would total 96 hours.
He has said Monroe County needs the extra days, not just the hours.
Currently the county has a 14-day early voting period.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.