Voting-rights allies claim victory in battle over campus voting sites

"I Voted Early" sticker. Credit: CD Davidson-Hiers

Students may vote early at on-campus sites after all, now that Florida’s chief elections officer has agreed to authorize local elections supervisors to set up such sites.

The League of Women Voters of Florida announced Friday that a legal fight launched in 2018 along with the Andrew Goodman Foundation and eight young Florida voters has ended in a settlement.

In that settlement, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee lifts restrictions that barred elections supervisors from setting up early-voting sites on college and university campuses.

Lee is required to advise elections supervisors throughout Florida that they are free to place early voting stations on college and university campuses, according to the plaintiffs’ press release, and that they are free to determine how many non-metered parking spaces should be available to meet the needs of voters expected to drive there.

League President Patricia Brigham said the settlement is a “true victory” at a time when voting rights face challenges aimed at restricting who can vote, when and where.

“Supervisors of elections should not be prohibited from establishing early voting stations on campus,” Brigham said in an interview, explaining that most college students are first-time voters who should be encouraged, not impeded, to join in participatory democracy.

Brigham said the League of Women Voters is troubled that Florida’s legislative leaders, and Gov. Ron DeSantis, support measures to make it more difficult to amend the state Constitution by citizen initiative and restore voting rights to felons who have done their time.

“We’ve certainly seen a trend against voting rights expansion,” Brigham said. “That is deeply troubling, and one does wonder if it’s an attempt to suppress voting.”

Directives against setting up early-voting stations on campus originated in the office of Lee’s predecessor, former Secretary of State Ken Detzner. He instructed elections supervisors that no site affiliated with a public college or university can be used for early voting.

After a court overruled him, the Florida Legislature passed a measure to require a certain number of non-metered parking spaces be available near a proposed on-campus voting site – a provision that the plaintiff students from Florida State University and the University of Florida viewed as deliberately obstructive. They argued that limited parking should not bar on-campus voting sites because many students walk or bike on campus anyway.

Next, Brigham said, voting rights advocates need to develop recommendations on how voting can best proceed this year during the coronavirus pandemic in Florida.