A day after judge blasts state, counties act fast to hold early voting on campus

Buildings at UF and USF, among others, could be early voting sites in the November general election.
UF's Reitz Student Union building [University of Florida]
UF's Reitz Student Union building [University of Florida]
Published July 25, 2018|Updated July 25, 2018

A day after a judge struck down Florida's ban on early voting on college and university campuses, the Gainesville-area supervisor of elections asked the University of Florida to make its student union available for early voting in the November general election — including on a day when the Gators have a home football game.

In addition, Tampa's chief elections official, Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer, said he has begun talks with USF leaders about holding early voting at the Marshall Student Center on the campus.

The developments come as both parties prepare to mount aggressive get-out-the-vote efforts in a year when Floridians will elect a governor, U.S. senator and other top elected officials and decide whether to restore the right to vote to most convicted felons and ban offshore drilling off the Florida coast.

Holding early voting on major college campuses could increase voting among students.  Alachua County, largely because of UF's commanding presence, is an overwhelmingly Democratic county, and the much larger Hillsborough leans Democratic.

Alachua Supervisor Kim Barton sent a letter to UF President W. Kent Fuchs, expressing her interest in using the J. Wayne Reitz Student Union for early voting for up to 14 days and checking on parking, security and sign issues.

"It is my responsibility to provide every voter in Alachua County access to an early voting site," Barton told UF. Read Barton's letter here.

The Reitz Union is the very building that Gov. Rick Scott's administration  said in 2014 was not allowed for use as an early voting site, an action that U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled Tuesday was a violation of college students' constitutional rights and showed a "stark pattern of discrimination" by the state Division of Elections.

In a blistering 40-page decision, Walker said the state has made college students a "secondary class of voters" by preventing them from casting ballots on their campuses.

READ MORE: Judge: Florida's early voting on campus ban shows 'stark pattern of discrimination'

Scott's office said it is reviewing the ruling. The governor's office has not said whether the state will appeal.

In his ruling, the judge noted that about 52,000 students attend UF, and that statewide, the number of people living and working on public college and university campuses in Florida is equal to the population of the city of Jacksonville or the combined population of the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming and Washington D.C.

In her letter, Barton noted that Saturday, Nov. 3, which is the last Saturday of early voting before the general election, the Gators have a home football game against the University of Missouri.

"The last Saturday of early voting is generally one of the busiest days, and it is important that access to the early voting location not differ from any other day, even if there is a football game happening," Barton wrote.

Hillsborough voting chief Latimer said he was pleased with Walker's order, which he called a "good ruling." Latimer holds early voting at 19 locations, but the closest ones to the USF campus are on Busch Boulevard and in the nearby city of Temple Terrace.

"I don't have anything that's right in the immediate area (of USF) at all," Latimer said.

Latimer noted that the court order comes at a time when early voting is growing in popularity.

In the 2016 presidential election, Latimer said, four of every 10 Hillsborough voters cast ballots at early voting sites.