State blocks use of UF student union as early voting center

Election supervisors and the League of Women Voters have a new complaint with Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature over early voting.

After years of complaints by supervisors who struggled with historically long lines at the polls in 2012, lawmakers last year expanded the list of early voting sites to include fairgronds, civic centers, courthouses, county commission buildings, stadiums, convention centers and government-owned community centers.

But when the city of Gainesville — which is heavily Democratic — asked if it could use the University of Florida student union for early voting in next month’s municipal elections, the state said no.

“The Reitz Union is a structure designed for, and affiliated with, a specific educational institution,” says an advisory opinion from Maria Matthews, director of the state Division of Elections, which is run by a Scott appointee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “The terms ‘convention center’ and ‘government-owned community center’ cannot be construed so broadly as to include the Reitz Union.”

The opinion noted that the 2013 Legislature rejected an amendment that would have further expanded the definition of early voting sites to include “educational facilities.”

“I’m very upset about this,” said Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards, president of a statewide supervisors’ group. “I just can’t understand why they feel the need to be so restrictive about where people are allowed to vote … This is strategic. They’re worried about young people voting.”

The union, named for former UF President J. Wayne Reitz, is used as a regular voting precinct in county, state and national elections. About 50,000 students attend UF, and the city said the request to use the Reitz Union for early voting came from a group of students.

With the UF student union now off limits, the city plans to use two early voting sites for the March 11 election, assistant city attorney Nicolle Shalley said. One is about 1.5 miles away and the other about three miles away (an earlier version of this post had incorrect distances).

Senate Ethics & Elections Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who sponsored SB 600, the 2013 law that expanded early voting sites, said: “No, no, we really did not specifically allow for them to be on campus.” He noted that the law allows for the use of one “bonus” site in an area underserved by other sites, but Shalley said that provision did not apply to Gainesville. Latvala said the city and Detzner’s office should “share” responsibility for the controversy.

“The way they (the city) asked the question is the way the department answered it,” Latvala said.

Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters, called it “jaw dropping to consider that we wouldn’t open up the student union, the student library and other buildings on campus to make it easier for our leaders of tomorrow to start their civic duty of voting. One can only be left with the impression that the Florida Legislature, Governor and Secretary of State would frankly prefer to discourage student participation.”

Article by Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau for Tampa Bay Times

Civic Groups Renew Call for Restoration of Felon Voting Rights

Civil and voting rights groups hosting a panel discussion in Lantana this weekend hope it will kick off a renewed discussion of Florida’s restriction of felons’ voting rights. An additional penalty on citizens who have otherwise paid their debt to society, the restriction has left one in ten voting-age Floridians without the right to participate in the democratic process.
One of the last vestiges of Florida’s Reconstruction-era official racism, with a disproportionate impact on the African-American and Hispanic communities, felon disenfranchisement was largely eliminated in 2007 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. It was reinstituted in 2011 by Rick Scott — one of his first acts in office.
Under the rules formulated by Scott, felons convicted of nonviolent crimes must wait five years before applying for restoration, and those convicted of violent crimes must wait seven.
In addition to undermining democracy, the panel’s sponsors say, felon disenfranchisement presents an additional stumbling block to ex-cons’ reintegration to society. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction in a tough-on-crime climate,” Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, told New Times. “Voting rights help reentry and ultimately make communities safer.”
Legislation that would make restoration of voting and other civil rights automatic for nonviolent felons upon completion of sentences has been introduced in Tallahassee by state Rep. Clovis Watson, Jr. (D-Gainesville). But chances of passage by the GOP-dominated Legislature are slim and, even if it were, a veto by Gov. Scott a certainty.
In the alternative, according to leaders at the ACLU of Florida, the League of Women Voters and Meade, voting rights activists are considering a citizen’s initiative to place a restoration amendment on the Florida ballot in 2016. “It’s a topic under serious discussion and research,” said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.
Meade said his group will be organizing “500 congregations statewide to stand for forgiveness and restoration.” They also intend to “reach out to the one-and-a-half million disenfranchised to get their families to support restoration.
“Think of Jesus on the cross with the two thieves,” Meade said. “‘Today you shall be with me in paradise,’ he told them. He didn’t tell them to wait five to seven years. Repentance and forgiveness are immediate.”
Restore the Vote – Disfranchisement Undermines Democracy
Sunday, February 9, 2 to 4:30 p.m.
Free and open to the public
Lantana County Library
4020 Lantana Road, Lake Worth
Howard Simon, Executive Director of Florida ACLU
Desmond Meade, President, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition
Jackie Winchester, former PBC Supervisor of Elections
Rep. Bobby Powell, District 88
Article by Fire Ant for Broward Palm Beach New Times

Five from Brevard honored as ‘Women of Action’

Five Brevard County women whose activism bears impact locally and beyond were honored as “Women of Action” Friday by League of Women Voters of the Space Coast.
The awards, the first of their kind for the League, came out of “thinking about the wonderful talent we have here, people who have contributed to the well-being of our county and citizens,” said Marilynn Collins, co-president.
Those honored during a luncheon at Suntree Country Club were:
• Joan Borders, Polly Cordell and Mary Eason, co-founders of Rolling Readers in Brevard;
• Maureen Rupe, president of Brevard Partnership for a Sustainable Future; and
• Alberta Wilson, chairwoman of the Space Coast Chapter of the National Congress of Black Women.
Wilson’s many roles have included serving as president of the Central Brevard NAACP and the Cocoa-Rockledge Civic League. Her “passion for equity, education, diversity, civic engagement and community awareness are reflected in the numerous volunteer leadership roles she has undertaken and all the community service awards which she has received,” Collins said.
Rupe, Collins said, “has fought for clean water, clean air and our Indian River Lagoon for many years.” She is president of the Partnership for a Sustainable Future, a coalition of diverse groups working to establish and maintain an economically and environmentally sustainable future for Brevard.
Cordell was spurred to start the local Rolling Readers program, which assists children in Pre-K through Grade 3 in learning to read, after hearing about its namesake in California. She was joined by Borders and Eason in the project, which today serves more than 6,000 Brevard students in 26 Title 1 elementary schools. In November 2013, Rolling Readers was named at FLORIDA TODAY’s Volunteer Recognition Awards as Organization of the Year.
Keynote speaker Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said the work done by honorees exemplifies action that matters in every area of everyday life.
“Whether it’s their school or a zoning issue … these are things that really get people out of their easy chairs and get their hands on the driving wheel,” she said.
~ by Britt Kennerly for FLORIDA TODAY