Florida’s Leon County Relents, Will Add Early Voting at University Site

[Image via tallydailyphoto]

Leon County (Tallahassee) Florida’s election supervisor has reversed course and agreed to put early voting for November at a location accessible to students from local universities. The Tallahassee Democrat has more:

Faced with a firestorm of criticism, Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley reversed his decision to not set up early voting sites on college campuses for the November General Election.

Earley said Monday students from Florida State, Florida A&M and Tallahassee Community College will have use of the Tucker Civic Center for early voting.

“While other activities scheduled at the Tucker Center during the Early Voting period may present some challenges, it is the only campus location offered that can serve multiple student populations for the two-week duration of Early Voting,” Earley said.

“We are heartened by President (John) Thrasher’s pledge to do everything necessary to make this a workable solution for all students in our community, so we are moving forward in good faith,” he said.

Last week, Earley said his office was unable to add new early voting because of logistics involving securing facilities, the availability of equipment and time needed for training.

That decision drew a strong rebuke from FSU President Thrasher who said his leadership team was already in the process of making arrangements to house early voting at the Tucker Center, which is owned by FSU.

President Thrasher is “very pleased with this news, and is glad the university is able to accommodate the needs of local students and residents,” FSU spokesman Dennis Schnittker said.

The supervisor’s change of heart stems in part from the criticism but also from construction-related difficulties at another downtown site:

Earley last week said his office could not handle the additional new site but offered to help with paying costs to transport students to already established early voting sites, including the Leon County Courthouse.

But Earley said concerns have developed with the courthouse location that caused the office to reconsider the offer.

“It should also be noted that the decision to open this new Early Voting site was made with the understanding that the massive Washington Square construction project, adjacent to the Leon County Courthouse, has begun to create traffic flow, parking, and pedestrian access challenges for voters who normally vote at the Courthouse,” he said.

“We expect these challenges to increase as we approach the General Election, and the addition of the Tucker Center Early Voting site serves as a good alternative for voters who desire to vote early in the downtown area. Like the Courthouse, the Tucker Center is in the heart of downtown on major transportation routes with plentiful parking for everyone. “

The voting entrance will be on the east side of the building, just off Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.

Earley said the decision was finalized Sunday following the closing of early voting sites in the county.

Earley said he and his information technology director Thomas James met Sunday at the Tucker Center with Kathleen Daly, FSU’s associate vice president for university relations, and members of her staff to go over the plans.

He acknowledged “getting some pressure from students and the League of Women Voters of Florida,” but said the Washington Square construction became the main factor.

As construction continues, he said he anticipated access to the courthouse will only get worse in the next couple of months.

“As far as looking for a solution, it became obvious the Tucker Center presented a possible solution for people who would drive to the courthouse for voting.”

He said it now offers voters a nearby alternative.

“I needed a solution and it was tailor-made for it and it works out for students, early voters and our office,” Earley said.

Students hailed the announcement:

FSU Student Body President Stacey Pierre welcomed Monday’s news.

“I am excited to hear that the Supervisor of Elections has decided to host an Early Voting site at the Tucker center,” Pierre said. “By including this early site, he has provided more access to hundreds of college students and local residents. 

“The student voice matters and I am glad that we have a chance to emphasize that this upcoming election.” 

Every election has one issue that pushes its way onto the front page; while cybersecurity is likely with us for several cycles to come, it seems that the drive to make voting more accessible to students on campus (while not a new issue) is the Hot Topic of the 2018 election. Will students turn out at a rate justifying the investment in campus-based locations? Stay tuned …

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