Student Stories

University of Florida Team Brings Early Voting to Campus

On the evening of Friday, August 17, Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton issued some groundbreaking news. For the first time, the University of Florida (UF) will host an early voting site. Available during the early voting period before the General Election, the site will be located in the J. Wayne Reitz Union on UF’s campus.

This news is the culmination of a nearly year-long effort by the Ambassadors on UF’s Vote Everywhere (VE) team. Last November, Megan Newsome, then the UF Team Leader, published an opinion piece in The Gainesville Sun that argued college and university students should be able to vote early on campus. By June, Newsome’s article had catalyzed legal action—with Newsome, Ambassador Jaime Roy, the League of Women Voters of Florida, and The Andrew Goodman Foundation as plaintiffs among others—against Kenneth Detzner in his official capacity as Florida Secretary of State. Secretary Detzner’s discriminatory interpretation of Florida Statue 101.657 effectively prohibited public college and university campuses from being selected for early voting sites.

Since then, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker granted a preliminary injunction which blocks Secretary Detzner’s ban on voting early on campus. Following the injunction, Supervisor Barton, who serves the county in which UF is located, wrote in a Vote Alachua update that she felt “confident” UF would have an early voting site for the General Election.

Megan Newsome

Supervisor Barton’s most recent announcement on Friday, confirming that UF will indeed house an early voting site, is a major success for key players working both in the courts and on the ground. When she heard the news, Newsome says, “I teared up! It was a pretty emotional moment because it’s been such a long time that we’ve been working on this.” Roy adds, “I happened to be at a swing dancing lesson at the time I got the news, so you could even say I did a victory dance.”

Both co-plaintiffs feel gratified to know that their work will benefit fellow students and effect positive change in our democracy. Newsome states, “this victory means that our efforts were worth it. It’s so great to know that the lawsuit is having an immediate effect on students’ voting access!” Reflecting on the process and result, Roy shares, “it feels as though our concerns have really been heard by our Supervisor of Elections, Kim Barton, and our university administration.”

Jaime Roy

Dr. Kevin Baron, the Civic Engagement Coordinator for UF’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service and the Ambassadors’ Campus Champion, also reacted. After advising and witnessing the students’ efforts, Baron states, “it means a lot to me that they can see a positive outcome from their work that makes a real impact in our community and state.” For the short term, the UF Vote Everywhere team’s highest priorities will be to register voters, spread the news about the early voting site on campus, and get out the vote. According to Baron, the Bob Graham Centers’ long-term goal is “to help students develop the skills and tools, along with opportunities, to be informed and active members of their community, in whatever way they find meaningful.” Young leaders like Newsome, Roy, and the other student plaintiffs certainly embody the realization of this powerful goal.

Dr. Kevin Baron

To spread the word about the early voting site, the UF Vote Everywhere team will be able to rely on my.VoteEverywhere. Launched recently by The Andrew Goodman Foundation, my.VoteEverywhere is an online voter information and engagement portal that is available to all Vote Everywhere campus partners, including UF. Given promotion and outreach by the UF campus team, UF students will be able to access the one-stop-shop to find important registration, voting, and election details, including the location of the new on-campus early voting site. As suggested by past trends in the University of Florida’s 2012-2016 NSLVE report, many students will likely choose to vote early. In 2016, a whopping 38.4 percent of UF’s student voters did. Now, they will be able to do so with ease on campus.

The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s team is also hard at work at the national level. In coordination with the Students Learn Students Vote (SLSV) Coalition, the Vote Everywhere team is supporting a statewide strategy for ensuring that more of Florida’s public college and university campuses obtain early voting sites. Next, we’re working together with local and national organizations that share a commitment to increasing voting access for students to bring an early voting location to our other Florida partner campus—Miami Dade College.

Although news of the early voting site at UF marks a milestone, it could be a temporary effect of Judge Walker’s preliminary injunction. By being a plaintiff in this lawsuit, The Andrew Goodman Foundation is dedicated to seeing this campaign through, until we have a lasting ruling that guarantees the possibility for Florida students to vote on campus. Our work is far from over, but in light of this success, we are reenergized to make student voting in Florida more accessible in this and every election.

 About The Author

Margaret Sasser is Vote Everywhere’s Program Development and Evaluation Manager. Margaret is passionate about civil rights issues and helping students to become active and engaged members of their communities.