Cerabino: Can Florida handle Parkland kids rounding up young voters?


I guess those idealistic young activists from Parkland haven’t gotten the memo.

On Monday, the student movement that began with the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, turned into a nationwide drive to register young voters for the upcoming midterm elections.

“By empowering millions of young people eligible to vote for the first time this year, we can bring common sense to our state houses and Congress,” student activist Cameron Kasky said.

In Florida, the “March for Our Lives” organizers plan a bus tour that will stop in each of the state’s 27 Congressional districts to register young voters and rally for more gun-control laws.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down with that “common sense” business, youngbloods.

This is Florida.

Be advised, the folks running this state have been working hard to promote less democracy — not more — especially from young adults, who don’t fully appreciate the fiduciary duty of making good on campaign cash accepted from the NRA.

In fact, Florida’s lawmakers have already gone through a lot of trouble to make it harder for young people to vote.

Typically, about two-thirds of Florida voters cast ballots before Election Day by going to early voting sites. So naturally, after taking office on 2010, Gov. Rick Scott’s the first instinct was to reduce the hours of early voting in future elections. In a state where Republican voters are only 35 percent of registered voters, getting the masses to remain on the sidelines is key.

So in 2012, the year then-President Barack Obama was up for re-election, Florida did its best to shrink the vote by cutting voting days from 14 to 8. The change created long lines, sometimes hours long, and then a logjam on Election Day, with six-hour waits reported in Miami and polls not closing there until 1:30 a.m.

Faced with national embarrassment over its voter suppression effort, the Florida Legislature grudgingly reversed its restrictions on early voting.

But not for young people.

The “reform” bill expanded the hours of early voting and allowed polling places to include courthouses, civic centers, stadiums, convention centers, fairground and government-owned senior and community centers.

Scott’s appointed elections chief Ken Detzner sent out an advisory opinion to the University of Florida that this new expansion didn’t mean the university could use its Reitz Union building as an early voting site.

“The terms ‘convention center’ and ‘government-owned community center’ cannot be construed so broadly as to include the Reitz Union,’” Detzner wrote.

At the time, then-Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Democrat from Lake Worth, complained that the state was willfully misinterpreting the voting law.

“The bill we passed, which later was signed into law by the governor, was very clear in stating that a ‘government-owned community center’ is an acceptable location for early voting. It is somewhat inconceivable to me that we have somehow misinterpreted that direction,” Clemens wrote in a 2014 letter to Detzner.

“The Reitz Union is government-owned, as the University of Florida is a public institution founded and funded by the state of Florida. The Reitz Union is also a community center, obviously.

“There is no ambiguity in the statute, nor is there any in the public nature or purpose of the Reitz Union. The statute is crystal clear, straightforward and with no room for misinterpretation.

“As a member of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee that formulated this bill, I ask that you immediately re-evaluate your unlawful decision to not allow voting at the Reitz Union and comply with law, which states that this public community center is unquestionably an allowable site for early voting.”

But Florida lawmakers let it stand. And Detzner’s ruling made all college and university buildings in Florida excluded as early-voting sites.

The college ban on early voting sites still exists.

So the question is: Why make it tougher for young adults to vote?

Maybe it’s because young people, especially those in college, tend not to vote Republican.

If you want to see a map where Democrats do well in Florida, just look at where colleges and universities are in the state.

North Florida is a Republican stronghold, but not in Alachua or Leon counties, where the students of the University of Florida and Florida State University are clustered.

When Rick Scott was re-elected in 2014, he won the state by one percentage point over Democrat Charlie Crist, but Scott lost by a wide margin in the North Florida counties where the state’s university students were clustered. Crist got a combined 79,398 votes to Scott’s 51,539 votes in those two counties.

Last month, the League of Women Voters and six Florida university students sued the state in federal court over the early-voting issue. Scott called it a “frivolous lawsuit.”

So good luck, youngbloods, as you travel around the state looking to sign up new voters.

Just know that your efforts are completely out of step with the people who run things here. So if it looks like they’re smiling at you, it’s a grimace.



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