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Sunday, Dec 09, 2018
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Carlton: Sorry, Gov. Scott, but college students can early vote after all. Hey, USF, talking to you here...

Good news, at least for those of us who keep believing in that old-fashioned notion that voting should be open and accessible to everyone who’s qualified.

Even if they’re, say, young voters. And even if certain politicians do not like the direction in which the votes might go.

"A stark pattern of discrimination" is what a federal judge recently called the decree four years ago by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration that state college and university campuses do not qualify to have early voting sites.

Unconstitutional, the judge also said.

A little history: Long lines to vote in 2012 prompted needed change — such as expansion of early voting. This included allowing elections supervisors to designate certain facilities as early voting sites, including convention centers and "government-owned community centers."

But in 2014, Scott’s secretary of state opined that the student union at the University of Florida in Gainesville did not fit the definition to qualify as an early voting site.

Never mind that early voting is particularly popular with college students — who, it turns out, sometimes don’t have cars.

Never mind that students live, study, work and play on and around college campuses, making those campuses great places to get engaged and involved in the political process.

And never mind that, as U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker put it rather nicely in his recent order striking down the campus ban: "Voting is the beating heart of democracy."

Scott’s office had scoffed at the legal action brought by six current or former UF and Florida State students, the League of Women Voters and the Andrew Goodman Foundation, calling it "frivolous" and an "election-year gimmick."

Others saw another deliberate attempt to suppress the vote.

The judge said this: "Throwing up roadblocks in front of younger voters does not remotely serve the public interest. Abridging voting rights never does." (As an aside, he also referred to UF as a school "revered by many as Florida’s first and finest institution of higher education," and yes, he’s a Gator.)

His ruling is a victory not just for voting rights but for young Floridians motivated to have a say — particularly in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland.

So let’s get early voting — right here at home, at the University of South Florida’s main campus in Tampa — right?

Not so fast.

It’s too late to have campus early voting in place for the upcoming August primary, so we’re talking about the November general election. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor has penned a letter to USF president Judy Genshaft lauding the good-news ruling and urging USF to take the lead. Craig Latimer, elections supervisor for Hillsborough County, says he has been in conversation with school officials. A USF spokeswoman said this week they are "still evaluating potential spaces."

Here’s hoping it happens soon. Because I’m betting there’s plenty of students out there ready to have their say — as early as possible.

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