After a federal court ruling that struck down barriers on early voting locations on college campuses, the League of Women Voters wants them in place for the November 6 general election.
At issue is Sec. of State Ken Detzner’s advisory opinion in 2014, which claimed state law barred the University of Florida student union from being used as an early voting location. Judge Mark Walker said in July that the ban appeared to be a way to stop younger voters from casting ballots -- something he said “does not remotely serve the public interest.”
“It’s our understanding that early voting was suggested at the University of Florida, and [Detzner] said that’s an educational facility. That’s what led to the lawsuit,” said Patti Brigham, President of the League of Women Voters of Florida, which brought the complaint.
The state will not challenge Walker’s ruling.
Seeking to get early voting on campuses statewide in the run up to November 6th, Brigham says some good things are now happening.
“The Supervisor of Elections in Leon County announced that [Florida State University] would provide early voting,” Brigham said. “The University of Central Florida will have early voting on its campus; the University of South Florida in Tampa will also provide that as will the University of Florida, where early plaintiffs originated.”
The League would like to add the University of West Florida to the lineup; Brigham says that call would come from David Stafford, Escambia County’s Supervisor of Elections.
“I did call your SOE’s office and was told that early voting sites have not yet been determined for Escambia County,” said Brigham. “If that’s the case, then it’s a great time to take the opportunity to make sure one of the sites will be at [UWF].”
“We have not made any decisions, we’re just wrapping up the primary election,” said Supervisor of Elections David Stafford. “If we decided decide internally it’s something we can and should do, then we’ll reach out to the university.”
Stafford points to other considerations in setting up an early voting site on campus as it would be for any proposed location – such as the cost of new, specialized ballot-printing equipment, personnel, and available facilities.
“It’s one thing tying up a place for a day and a half for Election Day; it’s quite another for tying up a location for two full weeks,” Stafford says. “And then you’ve got parking considerations, etc. None of them, I don’t think, insurmountable but anytime these things happen this late in the process, it complicates things.”
That said, can early voting on campus be held for the November general election? Stafford says logistically it would be a challenge, but if the resources are found it’s not impossible.
“One of the other considerations is the personnel that work there; that’s quite a commitment for people to – number one – have the time to be able to dedicate to it— and number two – have the desire to do it,” Stafford says.
“And then number three – have the skill set and the experience that we need. We’re not going to put first-time poll workers in an early voting location.”
Another complication is that UWF would be the 9th early voting site in Escambia County – one of which is already located on a college campus.
“Because we have a public library that sits on the campus of Pensacola State College, we’ve had an early voting location on a college campus since 2006,” says Stafford. “That’s something that’s sort of unique to Escambia County.”
The hope from the League of Women Voters is that arrangements can be made for campus early voting this fall. State President Pattie Brigham says after Judge Walker’s ruling, letters were sent out to university presidents and to the state Board of Governors.
“We just encourage the University of West Florida and the Supervisor of Elections to work together to provide early voting for your students,’ says League of Women Voters President Patti Brigham. “It’s a great civics lesson. Start voting early in life and you set a habit for a career of voting.”