Students sue Florida officials over early voting ban on college campuses


  • Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr
Florida election officials are creating an "unjustifiable burden" on young people by banning early voting at public buildings on state university campuses, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Students at the University of Florida and Florida State University are joining with the League of Women Voters of Florida to sue Gov. Rick Scott's administration and strike down the prohibition.

When state lawmakers expanded the availability of early voting after the "unconscionably long lines" of the 2012 election, they also expanded the types of locations that could serve as early voting centers. Under the new rules, local supervisors of election could have to the power to make any "fairground, civic center, courthouse, county commission building, stadium, convention center, government-owned senior center or government-owned community center" into an early voting site.

In 2014, the city of Gainesville asked state officials if the J. Wayne Reitz Union center on the UF campus could be used as an early voting site. Scott-appointed Secretary of State Ken Detzner denied this request, concluding that the law prohibited the use of any facilities related to a public Florida college or university for early voting. The Reitz Union, though, can be used by students to vote on Election Day.

"The result of the Secretary’s interpretation of the early vote statute is an unjustifiable burden on the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of eligible Florida voters," the lawsuit alleges. "These burdens fall particularly and disproportionately on the State’s young voters, who are significantly more likely to live on or near Florida’s public colleges and universities and, at the same time, are less likely to have easy, immediate access to reliable transportation to vote early in those communities."

The lawsuit filed in federal court also alleges that this unconstitutional ban "makes it more difficult, and in some cases impossible, for hundreds of thousands of Florida’s voters … to participate in early voting in the communities in which they live and have a right to vote."

In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, a spokesperson for Scott's office called the lawsuit "frivolous."

"The political organization and the partisan D.C. lawyers that filed this frivolous lawsuit know that under Gov. Scott's leadership, he has made it easier for Floridians to vote," the spokesperson said. "This political group waited four years to challenge this interpretation. This is obviously an election-year gimmick to distort the facts."

Scott, who has apparently "made it easier for Floridians to vote," is also being sued by former felons who allege the governor and Florida Cabinet have made it harder for them to restore their voting rights through the clemency process. 

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