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Columbia County Observer

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Rick Scott “Chomps” The Youth Vote With UF Decision

Gov. Rick Scott has been doing everything in his power to make it harder for voters since he took office in 2010.

In 2012, Florida was once again the national poster child for dysfunctional elections because many voters had to wait hours to cast their ballots. These lines were largely a result of Scott approving a law that radically curtailed early voting. But recent news out of Gainesville marks a new low in Scott’s war on voters.

Scott’s administration has blocked early voting at any facility at the University of Florida, and by extension, any facilities at all colleges and universities in Florida. This is clearly a continuation of Scott’s not-so-subtle efforts to throw up roadblocks and prevent certain voters from exercising their most fundamental right.

When student leaders and the City of Gainesville requested permission from Scott’s administration to use UF’s Reitz Student Union as an early-voting location for upcoming municipal elections, Scott’s elections chief said “no.”

This latest ruling goes so far as to even ban campus stadiums from being used as early-voting sites, despite the fact that Florida law explicitly names “stadiums” as acceptable for early-vote polling locations.

Scott’s staff argue that because the Legislature didn’t pass language to allow education facilities to be used for early voting, that means that facilities on campuses that actually are named in Florida statutes as legal for early voting, such as “government-run community centers” and “stadiums,” do not qualify.

Scott must have skipped the “Introduction to Logic” course during his college days. If the Legislature passed a law that said educational facilities could not be used for early voting, the argument would have never been an issue in the first place. But not passing a law that specifically allows educational facilities to be used for early voting should not trump the use of legally allowable facilities just because they happen to be on a school campus.

The precedent-setting nature of this ruling has far reaching implications.  Not only does this ill-conceived, anti-democratic ruling affect young voters on campuses, it also throws up a barrier to voting for the staff, faculty and surrounding community that would also benefit from the convenience of early voting at campus community centers and stadiums.

But the effect on younger voters is really where Scott’s ruling will be felt the most. A 2013 study by Professors Daniel Smith (University of Florida) and Michael Herron (Dartmouth) found that across Florida, voting precincts with higher concentrations of young voters had longer wait times to vote on election day than precincts with low percentages of young voters.

One way to reduce those election-day waits is to expand access to early voting. Unfortunately, Scott is doing the opposite.

“I just can’t understand why they feel the need to be so restrictive about where people are allowed to vote,” said Lori Edwards, President of the Florida Association of Elections Supervisors.

If Scott’s latest scheme to keep certain voters from the polls succeeds, many voting-rights advocates are concerned he’ll only be more emboldened to find more ways to restrict voting this November, when young-voter turnout could be higher than normal and his own name is on the ballot.

If Scott was concerned before that those UF students that brandish their “chomp” at the stadium were not going to be fans of his on election day, taking a “chomp” out of their right to vote certainly hasn’t done him any favors.

Mark Ferrulo is the executive director of Progress Florida, a statewide progressive advocacy organization.

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