A sentence buried deep within a controversial 64-page elections bill awaiting the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis has raised the ire of voter rights groups, who say the requirement would block early voting on college campuses.
A clause in the bill requires election supervisors to ensure that early voting locations “provide sufficient non-permitted parking to accommodate the anticipated amount of voters.”
It took a federal lawsuit to force Florida to allow early voting at the state’s college and university campuses in 2018, and now one group is threatening to file another lawsuit to ensure that early voting on campuses is allowed to continue.
“We will not stand by and let lawmakers keep young Floridians from exercising their right to vote,” said Guy Cecil, chairman of the Priorities USA Foundation. “Priorities will remain fully committed to work to make sure that every young Floridian has every opportunity to have their voice heard.”
The election administration bill, SB 7066, is the same one that would block thousands of returning felons from registering to vote until they pay all court-ordered fines and restitution, something supporters of Amendment 4 condemn.
“If Gov. DeSantis signs the bill, we’ll file suit soon after,” said Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for Priorities USA. Technically, it would be an amendment to the ongoing litigation filed last year, he said.
DeSantis has said he plans to sign the bill, but the Florida League of Women Voters has called on DeSantis to veto it.
“We hope he will do the right thing by the voters and veto Senate Bill 7066, which clearly thwarts the will of voters regarding Amendment 4 and attempts to obstruct college students from exercising their right to vote early on college and university campuses,” said Patricia Brigham, President of the Florida League of Women Voters.
It has nothing to do with parking spaces, she said. It has everything to do with providing a place on campus for students to vote early.
“Everyone that cares about the constitutional rights of early voting for students on campus without cars are going to have to be ever more vigilant,” Brigham said. “There is a pattern of legislation – with Amendment 4, House Bill 5 placing a heavier burden on petition gatherers. This pattern smacks of voter suppression.”
The League filed a lawsuit last year challenging a four-year-old interpretation of state election law by former Secretary of State Ken Detzner prohibiting early voting on college and university campuses. Priorities USA was a party to the lawsuit.
That decision was made after the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections asked if the Reitz Union at the University of Florida could be used as an early voting site. Detzner said it didn’t meet the definition of a “government-owned community center.”
That suit was filed on behalf of several UF students and one Florida State University student.
U.S. Judge Mark Walker issued a preliminary injunction last July that the state violated the federal equal protection clause and the 26th Amendment, “as it was intentionally discriminatory toward young peoples’ ability to vote,” Priorities USA said.
County elections officials opened 11 campus voting sites, including at UF and FSU and 60,000 people cast ballots in the November 2018 election.
“So you would think that lawmakers would be trying to find every way they could to make voting easier because that is our constitutional right as Americans to vote,” Brigham said.
The new lawsuit argues that the bill on DeSantis’s desk also violates the 26th Amendment because of the parking clause, an amendment introduced by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, and adopted by a 23-17 vote of the Senate.
Baxley said in previous published reports that he introduced the measure after reading about long lines and people unable to find parking near early voting locations.
Mark Earley, Supervisor of Elections for Leon County, said he is preparing early voting sites for the 2020 elections at both FSU and Florida A&M University. Ensuring adequate parking will be a challenge, he said, but the word “adequate” can also be subjective.
“I can see both sides,” he said. “In theory, we want to accommodate all voters. But sometimes there are special circumstances, like a college campus where those students have a need to early vote but not the access. It’s tougher to find parking on campus. but you still have to serve the voters there.”
Contact Schweers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.