TALLAHASSEE — A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit over early voting sites on college and university campuses, after voting-rights groups and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration reached an agreement in the case.
The agreement centered on an issue involving parking at early voting sites, as many college and university campuses have limited space for cars and other vehicles.
The long-running legal dispute, filed in May 2018, originally focused on an interpretation of state election laws by former Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, which decided that certain campus buildings did not meet guidelines for early voting sites.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in July 2018 ruled that the interpretation was unconstitutional and issued a preliminary injunction allowing campus early voting locations.
The League of Women Voters of Florida, the Andrew Goodman Foundation and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit last year asked Walker to amend the complaint to address part of a 2019 law, which said early-voting sites “must provide sufficient nonpermitted parking to accommodate the anticipated amount of voters.”
In a July brief, the plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that the “permitted parking prohibition provides a new means of suppressing the vote of young voters.”
The parking requirement mirrored a justification former Secretary of State Ken Detzner had given in a 2014 directive.
“The permitted parking prohibition discourages and in some cases effectively prohibits on-campus early voting in communities that voters disproportionately access on foot, on public transit, or through cars with parking permits,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers argued.
Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who was appointed by DeSantis last year, issued a new directive to supervisors of elections this month that led to the lawsuit’s dismissal.
In the April 2 directive, Lee wrote that the law “should be understood to require that the early voting sites collectively within a county provide sufficient nonpermitted parking to accommodate the anticipated amount of voters who require parking in order to access those sites.”
Lee added, “This does not mean that every early voting site must have a certain number of nonpermitted parking sites available.”
Supervisors “may determine the adequacy of nonpermitted parking based on the demographics, geography, foot traffic, or other features” of the voting population or communities in which they are located, provided that sufficient parking is available for voters who are anticipated to access polling sites using personal vehicles, Lee wrote.
On Thursday, the plaintiffs and Lee filed a “joint stipulation of dismissal with prejudice,” which “disposes of all claims and all parties.” Walker closed the case.
Following the release of Lee’s directive last week, plaintiffs hailed the secretary of state’s move.
“We are gratified that once again the constitutional rights of our young voters have superseded partisan politics,” League of Women Voters of Florida President Patricia Brigham said in a prepared statement.
Critics had alleged that partisanship was involved in Republican leaders trying to restrict campus voting sites.
The July 2019 amended complaint alleged that the “intended effect of both the secretary’s persistent obfuscation of when and where early voting may be offered on campus and the adoption of the permitted parking prohibition was to make it more difficult for young voters to cast early ballots.”
The efforts “to particularly burden young voters are animated by a belief that doing so will assist in gaining or maintaining a partisan electoral advantage,” the plaintiffs argued.