Escambia County Supervisor of Elections Office is adding a 9th early voting location for the November 6 General Election at the University of West Florida.
Calling it unconstitutional, Tallahassee Federal Judge Mark Walker in July struck down the ban on campus early voting put in place by Secretary of State Ken Detzner. In his ruling, Walker said it appeared to have been aimed at stopping younger voters from casting ballots.
“Obviously, you’ve got the students; you’ve got the people who work there, you’ve got the surrounding communities, so we’re hopeful that people will take advantage of it,” says Escambia County Supervisor of Elections David Stafford.
He says there was no time to set up early voting for the August 28 primary, but talks began with UWF soon afterward, to iron out some parallel issues.
“Number one, that the university was interested in having us; number two, that they had a spot that they could put us,” said Stafford. “And secondarily on our side that we were able to get the equipment that we would need in order to pull it off. And then be able to identify personnel that we could staff it. So all of those things sort of converged.”
Building 90 at UWF becomes the ninth location in Escambia County to host early voting. In choosing a location, Stafford says they deferred to the university, which showed them three possible locations. The choice was based on availability and logistics.
“There were a couple of other spots that, all things being equal, would have been better,” Stafford said. “However, at this sort of late juncture you have things that are scheduled in some of those spaces. So [Building 90] was, I think, the best stop that had the availability during the period of time that we needed to have it.”
This was no “the chicken or the egg” scenario. Janice Gilley, Associate Vice President of External Affairs at UWF, says it was a mutual communication.
“Because [UWF President Martha Saunders] was very interested once the court ruling came out to insure that we were very approachable by the Supervisor of Elections, to provide an early voting site here on campus,” said Gilley. “So, [Stafford] was amenable to us, and we were already reaching out to him.”
The building chosen, says Gilley, offers more than just a place to cast a ballot.
“It fits all the requirements statutorily; it provides plenty of parking and it also has handicapped accessibility that’s very important as well,” Gilley said. “Plus, it has an rea that’s kind of separate and can be locked off so that the machines and everything are safe in the evenings.”
As long as Florida law keeping campaigns and their materials at least 100 feet from the voting machines is observed, the early voting site could also be used as a learning tool.
“I think that it’s an excellent opportunity for staff, students and faculty that want to get engaged in the process to see how an early voting site monitored, or actually how the voting in general just takes place at an early voting site,” says Gilley.
Some of the major concerns, says Gilley, are for those who may have difficulty getting to their polling precincts on Election Day – such as students with difficult class schedules.
“I think the hope is that every student, faculty member, every staff member that wants to vote and is a registered voter in Escambia County will have every opportunity possible, as close as possible,” Gilley says.
West Florida joins Pensacola State College’s Genealogy Branch Library as the county’s other on-campus location. It’s a unique situation, says Supervisor David Stafford.
“There’s a very specific list of places we’re allowed to use for early voting sites; and one of those is a public library,” said Stafford. “The advantage that PSC had is that they actually had part of the West Florida Public Library system on campus there. That’s been our highest-productivity site; that’s gotten the most traffic election after election.”
The site, like the eight others, will be open to all registered voters. Stafford says one thing they’ll be looking for at Building 90 is turnout there.
“What that population’s going to look like there on campus at the University of West Florida,” said Stafford. “Obviously, you’ve got the students; you’ve got the people who work there, you’ve got the surrounding communities. So that we’re hopeful that the people will take advantage of it.”
Early voting in Escambia County kicks off today and runs through Saturday, November 3. Hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. each day.