Cerabino: Judge spoils Florida’s plan to ban early voting on campuses

Bad news, folks. Your Florida government’s ingenious plan to keep young people from voting hit a snag last week.

It came in a ruling from one of those activist federal judges doing a lot of yammering about “the Constitution” or whatever.

Sheesh, and it was such a clever plan.

As your state leaders know, young people frequently don’t vote for the right people, so it’s best to figure out a way to make casting a ballot as inconvenient as possible for them.

And your very own Florida Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner knew just how to do it. He issued an advisory opinion that effectively prevented all state colleges and universities from allowing early-voting sites on their campuses.

A state law passed five years ago held that county elections supervisors could set up early-voting sites at “fairgrounds, civic centers, convention centers and government-owned community centers.” Colleges and universities aren’t mentioned, so therefore, no voting should be allowed there, Detzner ruled.

This is a big deal. About 830,000 voting-aged people are enrolled in Florida’s universities, and early voting now accounts for about 40 percent of the total votes cast in Florida elections.

So making it harder for students to cast ballots during the weeklong early-voting period means that fewer of them will vote. Don’t think of it as less democracy. Think of it as a leaner, more toned democracy.

It’s also a good lesson for you young people. If more of you voted Republican, you’d be treated more fairly in Florida.

So for example, at the University of Florida, the nearest early-voting spot is the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office, which is a 24-minute walk from the closest edge of campus, according to Google, or a 51-minute bus ride that requires a transfer mid-route. This is in a county where two of the top three precincts in terms of numbers of registered voters are on the university campus.

The Reitz Union in the middle of campus had been designated as an early-voting site until Detzner put a stop to it.

Some students, along with the League of Women Voters of Florida and the Andrew Goodman Foundation, sued Detzner, claiming that his arbitrary ban on early voting on that campus as well as all the other public universities and colleges in the state was tantamount to unconstitutional voter suppression.

The state’s lawyers countered that Detzner was merely fulfilling the wishes of the Florida Legislature to exclude colleges and universities, while also helping them by “preventing parking issues, and avoiding on-campus disruption that an early-voting campus site could create.”

Yes, folks. Let’s keep in mind what’s really important here, the preservation of good parking.

Or to put it another way: a place for your Civic automobile must always prevail over a place for your civic duties.

But U.S. District Judge Mark Walker (clearly not a car guy, judging by the name) wasn’t impressed with the state’s parking-spot gambit. Walker wrote that Florida’s early-voting ban on campus “reeked of pretext” and was really just an effort to discriminate against a class of voters based on their age.

“It is unexplainable on grounds other than age because it bears so heavily on younger voters than all other voters,” Walker wrote.

And he made the argument that the state was hindering the best way for college students to vote.

Young voters, who are frequently moving in and out of voting districts, are prone to have their votes rejected if they try voting by mail. Walker cited that voters who are 18 to 21 years old are eight times more likely to have their mail-in votes disallowed than voters over 65 years old.

And young voters who show up on Election Day to vote often don’t know their precinct, and if they file provisional ballots, they are rejected at a rate that’s four times higher than voters who are between the ages of 45 to 64, the judge pointed out.

He clearly wasn’t in on the plan.

“Throwing up roadblocks in front of younger voters does not remotely serve the public interest,” Walker wrote. “Abridging voting rights never does.”

The ruling left it up to the state’s 67 elections supervisors where to hold early voting, not Gov. Rick Scott’s elections chief.

“This court does not order the supervisors of elections to designate a single early-voting site on a single college campus; rather, this order removes the handcuffs from Florida’s supervisors of elections and restores their discretion in setting early-voting sites,” Walker wrote.

Like I said, this is terrible. We may end up with too much democracy in Florida.

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