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Judge Strikes Down Florida's Campus Ban On Early Voting

Reitz Union
University of Florida's $75 million Reitz Union expansion is set to open in February 2016 after several failed fire inspections.

Updated, July 25 at 8:45 a.m.: Just hours after a court ruling that early voting could indeed take place on Florida college campuses, Alachua County Elections Supervisor Kim Barton took steps to plan for early voting from Monday, Oct. 22 through Saturday, Nov. 3 for the general election.

She sent a letter to University of Florida President Kent Fuchs requesting use of the Reitz Union for those dates.

In order to hold early voting there, Barton in her letter describes how she would need a secure room as well as access to that room at least a month before early voting begins. That would be on or about Aug. 22.  She also requests signage at all entrances to the union directing voters where to go to vote, and most importantly, 40 monitored parking spaces in the union's parking garage.

Barton also expresses concern about the last day of early voting, Saturday, Nov. 3  That’s the date of the University of Florida’s Homecoming football game against Missouri, and while acknowledging the extra crowd that event may bring to campus, she says it cannot interfere with early voting.  The Reitz Union is already used as a regular polling precinct and will be used for that purpose during Aug. 28 primary and Nov. 6 general election.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker yesterday struck down the state's prohibition on using college campus buildings for early voting. Barton said there is not enough time to prepare on-campus early voting for the Aug. 28 primary.

That’s why she instead is taking steps now for the general election.  In her letter to Fuchs, she also asks the University do everything it can to make sure students, faculty and staff are aware there will be a campus location for early voting for the general election and that it might provide them with easier access to vote.

Original story, July 24: A federal judge is telling Florida that college campuses can be used for early voting sites in this year's elections.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled Tuesday that the state's ban on using college and university campuses for early voting sites is unconstitutional. The League of Women Voters of Florida and several college students sued Secretary of State Ken Detzner over the ban back in May.

Detzner in 2014 told officials in Gainesville that they could not use the University of Florida student union as an early voting location. He said the early voting law does not allow it. The state does allow voting on college campuses during Election Day.

Walker ruled, however, that Detzner's decision created a secondary class of voters and put a lopsided burden on students.

Kim Barton, Alachua County supervisor of elections, said the process of selecting early voting sites takes time. The site must be accessible to all voters, integrate election technologies and ensure the safety and security of the voters' ballots.

"Unfortunately, given the timing of Judge Walker’s ruling, my office would be unable to properly set up an early voting site on the University of Florida’s campus for the 2018 Primary Election," Barton wrote in an email.

"My office will be reaching out to representatives from the University of Florida to consider options for the 2018 General Election."

Read more of WUFT's coverage of campaign 2018.

Forrest is a radio news manager for WUFT News. Reach him by emailing news@wuft.org or calling 352-392-6397.
The Associated Press is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.