The state issued an opinion denying a request to use the University of Florida’s Reitz Union for early voting.
Not too long ago, any effort to change election law that seemed to restrict or lessen voting rights would have been tantamount to political suicide, regardless of which party was attempting the change. But now there appears to be no shame or fear.
For many years there was an emphasis on increasing voter turnout. As Florida grew so did the number of polling places and the expansion of voting methods. Absentee ballots were open to everyone, not just those who showed they were unable to vote on election day. My party, the GOP, was quick to embrace absentee voting. It expertly adapted to campaigning to absentee voters.
Early voting days were added as a convenience to those who found it difficult to make it to the polls on election day. This appealed to those working long or irregular shifts, and became popular among the working class, younger voters and minorities.
In a state as large as Florida, with 19 million residents and 12 million registered voters, the 67 county supervisors of elections strive to offer more options and greater convenience to boost voter turnout. By increasing voting opportunities, they also reduce the wait for those who prefer to vote on the traditional election day.
Yet, under the guise of fighting voter fraud, which has been virtually nonexistent in Florida, numerous changes have been proposed to Florida’s election laws. Many of these provisions have had predictably bad results. In 2011, a massive election-reform bill resulted in hours-long waits during a shortened early voting period and on election day, causing many people to give up.
Embarrassed by the national attention and ridicule, the Gov. Rick Scott and Legislature partially undid some of the damage done in the so-called reform bill. That was a small step in the right direction.
One change, requested by the experts, the supervisors of elections, was to increase the types of facilities that could be used for voting.
But, with another election looming, it seems efforts are again underway to limit early voting. The state Division of Elections recently issued an opinion denying a request to use the University of Florida’s Reitz Union as an early voting location. As a Gator alumna, I’m particularly peeved at the state’s stupidity.
The university has a student population of 50,000 and a faculty of more than 4,000. Having a voting location on campus makes so much sense that the student union is actually one of Alachua County’s 63 Election Day polling locations.
That’s right, it’s OK to vote there on election day but not for early voting.
The division does not seem embarrassed by this illogical distinction. It should reverse its advisory opinion immediately before furthering the perception that its goal is to limit the voting rights of these students.
The Division of Elections falls under Secretary of State Ken Detzner, appointed by Scott. The division maintains that state statutes do not specifically allow educational facilities to be used as early voting locations.
Instead of mincing words and erring on the side of restricting voting, the division should apply common sense to the students’ request to have their government-owned student union facility serve as an early voting location. Any reasonably minded person would have no trouble interpreting the statute to include the Reitz Union.
Because this seems to cause the division consternation, it should recommend a clarification to the statute to include student unions or higher-education facilities to the list of allowable early voting locations to benefit all Florida college students.
Now is the time because the legislative session is about to begin. The state should apply common sense and fairness into expanding rather than contracting voter rights.
In seeking to discourage voting among independent-minded college students, the division might have awakened a sleeping giant. Notoriously uninspired youth voters might just have gotten the inspiration they need.