TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A Florida voting rights group and university students from two schools sued the state’s chief election official on Monday over a 4-year-old edict banning the use of college buildings as early voting sites.
The lawsuit takes aim at a decision made by Secretary of State Ken Detzner in 2014 that the University of Florida student union could not be used by Gainesville city officials as an early voting site. Detzner concluded that the law prohibited the use of all college and university buildings for early voting, which is allowed up to 15 days before an election.
The lawsuit filed in federal court by the League of Women Voters of Florida and six students from the University of Florida and Florida State University contends Detzner is misinterpreting the law. The law permits the use of a long line of publicly owned buildings including community centers, libraries and stadiums.
“The result of the secretary’s interpretation of the early vote statute is an unjustifiable burden on the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of eligible Florida voters,” reads the lawsuit. “These burdens fall particularly and disproportionately on the state’s young voters, who are significantly more likely to live on or near Florida’s public colleges and universities and, at the same time, are less likely to have easy, immediate access to reliable transportation to vote early in those communities.”
The lawsuit, which was first reported by the Tampa Bay Times, comes months before a crucial election in Florida in which the balance of power in Congress could be tipped by several races on the ballot in the battleground state.
John Tupps, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, blasted the lawsuit as “frivolous” and suggested it was being done for partisan reasons. He noted that universities and college campuses are allowed to offer voting on campus during Election Day.
“This political group waited four years to challenge this interpretation,” Tupps said. “This is obviously an election-year gimmick to distort the facts.”
Florida’s election laws have constantly come under fire since the chaotic presidential election in 2000, which hinged on the state’s final vote count.
The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature tightened up early voting ahead of the 2012 election only to backtrack after people waited for hours in long lines during both the early-voting period and on Election Day. Legislators in 2013 lengthened the time available for early voting and expanded the locations that could be used for early voting.