The following post is by Anna Baringer from Gainesville, Florida. Anna is a student at University of Florida where she studies economics and political science. In addition to being on the Campus Vote Project Student Advisory Board, she also serves as president of a student organization called Gators for Underrepresented Voters. She helps provide nonpartisan information to students and organize voter registration drives and advocacy events.
In Florida, no college campus can serve as an early voting location.
Florida Statute 101.657 lists the locations permitted to host early voting locations. Despite listing locations like a “stadium, convention center… or government-owned community center,” in 2014, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner declared that the University of Florida could not use our student union as an early voting location. The director of the Florida Division of Elections, Maria Matthews, later released a statement stating the student union does not qualify as a government-owned convention center because “the Reitz Union is a structure designed for, and affiliated with, a specific educational institution.” This statute interpretation has rippled to prevent any building on any Florida campus from being used as an early voting site.
As a result, students at many of the state’s biggest universities, are faced with a dilemma: walk miles to the nearest polling location or wait to cast a ballot until Election Day. At the University of Florida, home to more than 50,000 students, the nearest early voting location is 2.5 miles away, about a 50-minute walk. At the University of Central Florida, a school of almost 70,000, the nearest early voting site is 3 miles away, about an hour’s walk.
It’s surprising to note that our student union actually serves as one of the county’s polling locations on Election Day. County Supervisors of Elections can decide to use on campus locations on election day but not as early voting sites.
Florida students and university staff deserve equal access to exercise their civic duty. If a site makes sense for an Election Day voting location, it should be permitted to be used as an early voting location, whether or not it happens to be on a college campus. Instead of discouraging student participation, our state should be reaching out to groups of historically underrepresented voters.
At the University of Florida, students are voicing their opinions to representatives, petitioning the state, and lobbying the student government to support a statute change.
Took spread this movement and keep momentum going, Florida students and citizens should join students at the University of Florida in demanding equitable voting access for our state’s young people. Call your state representatives, sign and spread a petition, and share this article. Let’s make it clear that it’s time to update Florida Statute 101.657 and allow early voting sites on college campuses and universities. Anything short of change is a direct attack on student voting rights.