Secretary of State Ken Detzner is asking a federal court to let the state courts decide a dispute over whether early voting sites should be allowed on state university or college campuses.
In May, the Florida League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, alleging the constitutional rights of students at the University of Florida and Florida State University were being violated by a 2014 interpretation of a state law by Detzner’s agency that found early-voting sites were not specifically authorized on university campuses.
The lawsuit alleged the state was placing “an unjustifiable burden on the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of eligible Florida voters” and that Detzner's policy “disproportionately” impacted the state’s younger voters.
In a motion filed Friday, lawyers for Detzner, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, asked U.S. District Judge Mark Walker to “abstain” from deciding the case.
“A state court, interpreting state law, can decide the case on narrow, statutory interpretation grounds and, perhaps, avoid any constitutional issues,” the motion said. “A state court’s interpretation, reviewed by a single state appellate court, has the added benefit of binding all Florida trial courts and promoting consistency throughout Florida.”
The motion also noted the federal court could grant a stay in the case, while the League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs seek a review in state court. The motion also said the alleged constitutional violations were not “cognizable” since most of the students said they had voted early in prior elections and that there are early-voting sites approximately one mile from both universities.
A key issue in the case is a 2013 law that expanded early-voting sites from supervisor’s offices, city hall and public libraries to “any fairgrounds, civic centers, courthouses, county commission buildings, stadiums, convention centers, government-owned senior centers and government-own community centers.”
Detzner’s 2014 interpretation, which was made at the request of the city of Gainesville, determined that a university campus did not meet the definition of any of the authorized voting sites.