Decision 2020

Settlement Reached in Florida Dispute Over College Voting

Florida held its presidential preference primary last month, and the next statewide elections are in August and November

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Florida officials agreed to allow early voting sites back on college campuses, under an agreement announced Friday, a development cheered by voter rights advocates who had filed a legal challenge.

Under the settlement, local elections officials are again allowed to consider college campuses as early voting sites. The agreement also loosens parking restrictions on college campuses, which state officials had cited as a reason for their being unsuitable as polling places.

“This is excellent news for students, many of whom are exercising their constitutional right to vote for the first time,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

Last year, the League joined the Andrew Goodman Foundation in filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of eight young Florida voters who accused then- Secretary of State Ken Detzner of trying to stifle young voter turnout.

A U.S. District Court judge in Tallahassee sided with the students and issued a preliminary injunction, prompting the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to include the parking language in an elections package signed into law last spring by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Critics contend the law's language would virtually ban polling sites on college campuses and block participation from an important bloc of voters. They said such a move would have significant consequences in a state with a history of close elections and ballot-box battles, many of which have been fought in courts as Republicans and Democrats seek to gain electoral advantage.

“There’s a track record here,” Brigham said of Florida's ongoing skirmishes. “Unfortunately, these issues that aren’t partisan become partisan. But these are issues of democracy and our constitutional rights.”

Florida held its presidential preference primary last month, and the next statewide elections are in August and November.

Democrats are counting on young voters, who they see as more sympathetic to the progressive causes they champion, to help influence the outcome of key races in a state that both major parties consider crucial.

Although the current secretary of state, Laurel M. Lee, was named in the updated suit, she did not have a direct hand in drafting the law.

In a memo sent out to local elections officials on Thursday, Lee clarified what it means to have “sufficient nonpermitted parking" — the language that had been the crux of the legal dispute.

“Supervisors of elections must ensure that, in their county, there are sufficient early voting sites with adequate nonpermitted parking to accommodate those voters who are anticipated to access early voting by car,” she said in her memo. “This does not mean that every early voting site must have a certain number of nonpermitted parking sites available."

"There is nothing in Florida law that prohibits the use of on-campus sites for early voting," she said, as long as other rules “are otherwise met.”

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Follow Bobby Caina Calvan at http://twitter.com/bobbycalvan.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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