How Florida’s Top Elections Official Just Made It Harder For College Students To Vote

CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons

University Of Florida's Reitz Union

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) endured heavy criticism for his administration’s efforts to limit voting in the 2012 election. His administration’s latest decision to deny college students a convenient place to cast an early ballot is unlikely to quell this kind of criticism. Gainesville, Florida, in an attempt to avoid the six-hour lines that characterized last Election Day, sought approval to use the University of Florida’s student union as an early voting site. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner denied the request, sparking outrage.

Detzner justified the decision by claiming that the Reitz student union does not fit the list of eligible early voting sites, which was expanded last year to reduce lines. Now, municipalities can use fairgrounds, government-owned community centers, convention centers, stadiums, courthouses, civic centers, and county commission buildings. “The terms ‘convention center’ and ‘government-owned community center’ cannot be construed so broadly as to include the Reitz Union,” the state’s Division of Elections argued.

Local officials contend that the Reitz Union qualifies as a government-owned community center, as it is part of a public university.

“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.”

Instead, UF students will have to travel more than five miles off campus in order to cast their vote in the March special election — a difficult trip for a mostly car-less population.

College students are among the demographics most targeted by voter suppression efforts. Republican lawmakers in several states have tried to restrict student voting and make it harder for students to claim residency where they go to school. Florida specifically tried to keep college students from voting in 2012 by requiring that they officially change their address a month before Election Day.

Even after reversing its own voter suppression laws, the Scott administration alienated some elections supervisors over renewed efforts to purge voter lists and restrict where voters can drop off absentee ballots.