The League of Women Voters of Florida wants a judge to order Gov. Rick Scott's administration to allow early voting on state college and university campuses in the two upcoming statewide elections.
Acting on behalf of six UF and FSU students, the group filed a petition with U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee Thursday.
The League is challenging Secretary of State Ken Detzner's interpretation of state election laws to exclude campus buildings for early voting. Detzner's office denied the city of Gainesville's request to use the UF student union building for early voting in the 2014 city election.
The group, supported by the Andrew Goodman Foundation, wants the court to order Detzner to tell county election supervisors it is unconstitutional to specifically exclude any early voting site that is "related to, designed for, affiliated with or part of a college or university."
The Legislature in 2013 expanded the pool of early voting sites to include several new types of buildings. Campus buildings were not specifically included, but "government-owned community centers" were.
Early voting made a strong revival in the 2016 election in Florida and it is expected to be popular again this year. Turnout results from recent state elections show young voters are less likely to vote than older voters. Alachua County, where UF is located, is overwhelming Democratic.
The first day early voting can begin for the Aug. 28 primary is Monday, Aug. 13. All counties must begin early voting by Sunday, Aug. 19.
Walker has ruled against Gov. Rick Scott's administration in two earlier high-profile voting cases. One extended the voter registration deadline after a 2016 hurricane and the other dismantled Florida's voting rights restoration system for felons as unconstitutional, which the state is appealing.
Scott's lawyers have asked that the early voting case be moved from Walker's court to a state court, arguing that what's at issue is an interpretation of a state law.
Noting the timing of the League's lawsuit, four years after the Reitz union controversy, Scott's office has called the suit "frivolous" and an "election year gimmick."
The League's lead counsel in the case is the Orlando firm of King, Blackwell, Zehnder & Wermuth, which has done extensive work in voting rights cases. Name partner David King is the father of Chris King, Democratic candidate for governor.