TAMPA, FL— Attorney General candidate George Sheldon criticized Governor Rick Scott on Monday for his continuing campaign to reduce voter turnout among groups not likely to support him in the next election and called on Attorney General Pam Bondi not to continue standing by silently in the face of the assaults on “the most basic American freedom, the right to vote.”
The most recent assault on voting rights by the Scott administration was on young voters at the University of Florida. Scott’s appointed secretary of state, Ken Detzner, rejected the view of local elected officials that Reitz Union qualifies as an early voting site because, as a part of a public university, it is a government-owned community center. The student center has been a regular polling place in the past and is expected to be used on Election Day itself again in 2014.
Sheldon commented: “The locally elected supervisor of elections in Gainesville understands the need to make voting convenient, but the Scott administration has gone out of its way to say no. This is the narrowest possible interpretation of a law passed by Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature. The ruling from the Scott administration is no accident and not an isolated decision. This is part of a carefully planned crusade to keep young people from voting. They know that students often have exams or papers and need to vote early if they are going to vote at all.“
In 2013, responding to long lines at the polls in the 2012 election, the Legislature passed a law intended to increase voter access to the polls. The law allows municipalities to use fairgrounds, government-owned community centers, convention centers, stadiums, courthouses, civic centers and county commission buildings as early voting sites. Detzner declared that the list does not specifically include campus student centers.
Sheldon is not the only one who has expressed concern. “I’m very upset about this,” Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards told the Tampa Bay Times. “I just can’t understand why they feel the need to be so restrictive about where people are allowed to vote… This is strategic. They’re worried about young people voting,” Edwards said.
Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters, called Detzner’s decision “jaw-dropping,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“Scott has promoted a big scare campaign about voting fraud, but these are university students with picture IDs,” Sheldon said. By making it harder for legitimate voters to vote, Scott can potentially deter thousands of university students from voting early, not just at the University of Florida, but at all colleges and universities statewide.
Sheldon criticized Bondi’s silence on the issue. “We have heard nothing about this from Pam Bondi. The attorney general needs to be at the forefront of protecting the democratic process and the most basic American freedom, the right to vote.”
“After the 2000 election, Florida led the nation in reforming the voting system and ensuring that every person’s vote was counted,” Sheldon said. “Now the Scott administration is undoing all of that, intentionally and maliciously, in a desperate effort to shore up Scott’s re-election campaign.”
Scott’s proposed suppression of voting at UF follows closely on the heels of his administration’s attempt to restrict early voting in the upcoming special election in Pinellas County to fill the seat of U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young. On Nov. 25, Detzner announced that Pinellas County Elections officials should not solicit the return of absentee ballots at any place other than a supervisor’s office. The directive surprised county elections officials, who said they were not consulted about it ahead of time and who had been urging voters to drop off absentee ballots at satellite locations.
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark put Scott on notice that she would refuse to obey the order and would continue to accept ballots at satellite locations. Clark’s colleagues around the state rallied around her, and Detzner backed down.
Bondi did not speak out then, either. Sheldon encouraged local supervisors of elections and students to protest the latest suppression effort as well. “When the people speak out in defense of their voting rights, all Floridians benefit,” he said.