No on-campus early voting site could be a problem for some UF students

02/13/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Craig Latimer, early voting, UF, University of Florida, college Democrats, Bill Nelson, Voting rights


Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer says voting should be made as easy as possible for registered voters.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Early voting may not be an option for some University of Florida students who don’t have cars. That’s because the Florida Division of Elections won’t let the school’s student union serve as an early voting location. Rachel McGovern, with the UF College Democrats said even though there is an early voting location off campus less than two miles away, it’s still a challenge for some students to get there.

“For some students who live on the opposite side of campus and have to then travel all the way across campus and then to the early voting location, I would say it really could take up to an hour if they were walking all the way across campus and all the way down if that was their only form of transportation. We are college students, we don’t all have cars.”

An elections law passed last year expanded the types of places that could be used for early voting to include public libraries, convention centers and government-owned buildings. A Florida Division of Elections ruling stated that the law could not be interpreted broadly enough to include the UF Student Union. But critics of the state’s decision worry it’s a blatant attempt by Governor Rick Scott and the state’s head of elections Ken Detzner to stifle young votes which tend to favor Democrats. Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson addressed his colleagues in Washington yesterday.

“Well, an attempt to suppress students votes who may not be voting for the people in power that are trying to suppress their votes. It’s all the more of interest because there will be on the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment to change the state constitution to allow by doctor’s prescription, medical marijuana – something that has generated interest in all sectors of society, but in particular, among students.”

And UF student McGovern says efforts to block students from voting could be working.

“I’m afraid that if we don’t change the laws or fix what’s happening, than students will not have the access to the polls and those who want to vote might not have an opportunity.”

But it’s not just the University of Florida. According to the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, Craig Latimer, many college libraries are off limits too.

“You know, it’s kind of interesting right now here at the University of South Florida, for example, there’s a wonderful library on campus, but it’s not a public library and unless you’re a student, you can’t check anything out from that library so it’s not public.”

The USF Marshall Center is used as a polling location on Election Days. So too is the UF Reitz Student Union. But UF College Democrat McGovern who also is the VP of the state College Democrats says Election Day turnout is just more evidence the on campus site should be used for early voting.

“On Election Day, 65% of the polling location – the Reitz Student Union which is the on-campus precinct – turned out to vote on Election Day which is a much higher rate than some other precincts. Other precincts have more people who participate in early voting.”

If a student union is good enough for Election Day, why not early voting. Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Latimer says it’s because early voting spans several days and a facility has to meet certain standards guaranteeing voting won’t disrupt normal business. But that doesn’t mean he necessarily agrees.

“As a supervisor of election though, I think we should do everything we can to encourage people to vote and make it as easy as we can for them to vote.”

Latimer says there are plenty of ways to bring innovation to voting. One of those is internet voting where registered voters would enter an ID number and cast a ballot from their computer without ever having to leave their home.

“This younger generation that you’re talking about, they live on smart phones and tablets and that’s their life. They think nothing of interacting through the internet and through these devices. Now, there’s a lot that has to be worked out on that obviously.”

Latimer says the technology for internet voting exists, but fraud is still an issue. So far, there’s no way to tell if the registered voter attached to a ballot is the same person who actually cast it. Gainesville’s municipal election is March 11.

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