GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA — Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist (D-FL) made a personal appeal to students at the University of Florida Wednesday, declaring that a vote against Gov. Rick Scott (R) was a vote against an administration that had made it harder on students to vote.
“You can’t vote on campus, though, can you? Why is that?” Crist asked students during a campaign stop Wednesday. “Rick Scott. You got it. I remember being here in the spring and there was a local election and we were talking about the fact you couldn’t vote on campus because of…Rick Scott. So, in six days, senator, maybe we’ll be Scott-free!”
Crist was referencing a decision made by Florida’s Secretary of State in February to deny the city of Gainesville’s request to use the University of Florida’s student union as an early voting site. That decision prompted an outcry from many in Gainesville, including Crist, who called the decision an “outrage,” and by Florida House Minority Leader Perry Thurston (D), who accused Scott’s administration of “trying to suppress the vote of university students and other Floridians.”
As the gubernatorial election draws closer in Florida, that outrage hasn’t subsided, at least among some students. Amir Avin, president of the university’s College Democrats, said not being able to use the Reitz student union building as an early voting place is “definitely disenfranchising voters.”
“And not just students — all the faculty and anyone that works and lives near the University of Florida. There are so many people who commute here every day,” he said. “All of these voters who live within Alachua county that come commuter here, all the students who go to school here, they aren’t able to vote early in a location that’s most convenient to them.”
The student union building is used as a voting location on election day, but last election day, many places in Florida were plagued by lines so long that, according to one report, they discouraged 201,000 Florida residents from voting.
Having an early voting location that’s central to campus is key for students, especially those who aren’t already strongly motivated to vote, Avin said. The University of Florida has a student enrollment of more than 49,000, making up 38 percent of Gainesville’s population.
“There are so many students who are unaware that there are even midterm elections going on,” he said. “For a lot of people who aren’t as civically engaged…all this information can be a little overwhelming, and then by the time it’s Tuesday and it’s Election Day, they have classes and they have exams and they’re potentially not going to take the time to look at this information.”
If the student union building were open for early voting, however, Avin said that political and pro-voting groups on campus would have a week and a half to talk to students about the elections and tell them how easy it is to vote on campus.
Many students, since they’re away at college and may have registered under their home addresses, are voting via absentee ballots. But some say that they would have preferred to vote early on campus if that had been an option. Kaitlin Fosse, a sophomore at Florida, said she “still hasn’t gotten” her absentee ballot and is worried it won’t come on time for her to vote. Roshan Patel, a Florida senior, is also voting by absentee ballot. To request it, he used TurboVote, an online voting service that has partnered with the University of Florida and other colleges in an attempt to boost student voting. The service was helpful, he said, but being able to vote early on campus still would have been easier.
Other students aren’t sure whether they’ll vote or not. Zack Guignardi, a senior, said he hasn’t voted yet because he can’t vote early on campus. The fact that there’s not an early voting place on campus “means that I don’t have time to vote,” he said. Jordenn Wagner, a sophomore, agreed: she said many students she knows don’t have cars, so going off campus to vote early is too much of an inconvenience.
“I would have early voted if we had been able to at the student center — it would have been way more convenient,” she said.
The race between Scott and Crist has grown tight: the latest poll shows Crist just barely leading Scott.