Florida’s ‘one man, one vote, ample parking’ law challenged in court
This story was originally published in The Center Square on July 11, 2019.
A package of “election reform” bills signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis has apparently updated the principle of “one man, one vote” to “one man, one vote, ample parking” – a tweak the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWV) says was purposely concocted by Republican lawmakers to suppress early voting on college campuses.
The LWV Monday filed an updated complaint in its on-going legal challenge to a 2014 policy instituted by then-Secretary of State Ken Detzner that prohibited early voting on college campuses, claiming the new law that requires early voting sites have “sufficient non-permitted parking” encodes the same restrictions that a federal judge declared unconstitutional last July.
The language in the bill “echoes almost precisely the arguments made” last year by the state, said the motion filed by the LWV, the Tom Steyer-sponsored NextGen Florida and Priorities USA Foundation, a Democratic Party affiliated political action committee.
Detzner had argued before U.S. District Court Chief Justice Mark Walker that campus parking restrictions make them unsuitable as early polling places.
But Walker dismissed Dentzer’s argument and imposed a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the ban, agreeing with the LWV and six University of Florida and Florida State University students who said the parking requirement violated their First, 14th, and 26th amendment rights.
As a result, according to the LWV, nearly 60,000 students cast early voting ballots on 11 campuses across the state.
But during the legislative session, a bill sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, allowed supervisors of elections to designate public places, such as libraries, city halls, courthouses and government-owned communities centers, to be used as early voting sites, as long as they “provide sufficient non-permitted parking to accommodate the anticipated amount of voters.”
The bill, signed into law by DeSantis, essentially bans polling sites on college campuses because of their restrictive parking rules.
That’s not the intent, Baxley told the Huffington Post, noting most campuses have spaces with ample parking, such as student unions and athletic facilities.
For instance, more than 4,600 cast early ballots at the Yuengling Center, a basketball arena with its own parking lot at the University of South Florida’s campus in North Tampa.
“I just think it’s reasonable that if you want to have a voting location, you need a certain amount of square footage,” Baxley said. “You need a certain amount of visibility. You need to have somewhere they can park to get there.”
Before 2013, county elections supervisors could only offer early voting in main or branch offices and were only permitted to designate a “city hall or permanent public library facility” as early voting sites.
A 2013 state law allowed county elections supervisors to designate “any fairground, civic center, courthouse, county commission building, stadium, convention center, government-owned senior center, or government-owned community center as an early voting site.”
However, when the city of Gainesville requested to use University of Florida’s student union as an early voting site in 2014, the state’s Division of Elections ruled it was not a “government-owned community center” and therefore, by state law, could not be used.
In a November 2017 Gainsville Sun op-ed written by UF Vote Everywhere Team Leader Megan Newsome said the state’s decision created a huge barrier to student voting, claiming unless students have access to a vehicle, voting often means a long walk to the nearest polling site or riding for an hour on multiple buses.
Newsome claimed the state’s decision prevented thousands of UF students from voting in 2014 and 2016.
“Students deserve to have their votes counted just like everyone else. That’s why we’re defending the voices of students across Florida, who have had trouble getting to early-voting locations,” Newsome wrote.
The Republican-controlled Legislature is trying to re-impose that same restriction again despite Walker’s ruling that it is unconstitutional, LWV and others in the complaint state.