After Court Ruling, Early Voting On College Campuses Makes It Easy For Students
Early in the morning, before the University of South Florida became abuzz with students hurrying off to class, Liz Lennox was sorting through five pages of candidates and amendments.
It was the first time the USF senior cast a ballot. It was also the first time that the Yuengling Center, formerly the USF Sun Dome, was open for voting.
Lennox said having an early voting site on campus makes voting easier for busy students.
"I came early to class just so I could vote," she said. "I didn't have to go out of my way."
College campuses can now host polling locations thanks to a federal court ruling back in July. Allowing young people like Lennox to have easier access to voting was exactly what that case was about.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner had previously interpreted Florida's voting laws in a way that allowed for voting to take place in city halls, libraries and other public buildings, but not public universities. So the League of Women Voters sued the state along with students from the University of Florida and Florida State University.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker said the state's ban on polling sites on college campuses was discriminatory.
"It is unexplainable on grounds other than age because it bears so heavily on younger voters than on all other voters," Walker wrote in his 40-page opinion.
The ruling came at a perfect time for Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer. He said more than 60,000 people live, work or learn on USF's Tampa campus, yet the closes early voting site is nearly 5 miles away.
Latimer said his office was considering renting space at the University Mall on Fowler Avenue before the ruling allowed him to put an early voting site directly at USF. Hillsborough County's other major colleges, University of Tampa and Hillsborough Community College, already had voting locations close by.
"It worked out well for our needs," Latimer said. "Almost every one of our 390 precincts represented out at USF. So people from all over the county that work there, go to school there, whatever the case is, they're going there to vote, to0."
Although he and his colleagues are already frequently on campus talking to students about voting, Latimer said having an early voting site that's convenient for students is a great tool in increasing young voter turnout.
"Sixty-thousand people is almost the combined populations of Temple Terrace and Plant City together," Latimer said. "There's no way I can't defend having a site there."
More than 60 percent of Hillsborough voters cast ballots prior to Election Day in 2012 and 2016. As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 2,200 people had voted at the Yuengling Center.
Early voting has also been taking place on campuses in Gainesville, Tallahassee, Miami and others.