After a swell of voter participation of young, poor, and minority voters in 2008, more than 25 states have put into place restrictive voting laws. These voter suppression efforts, ranging from voter ID to early voting restrictions, disenfranchise marginalized communities with an interest in shaping the electorate. Florida’s latest iteration of voter suppression — parking.
Without much fanfare, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 7066 into law, legislation that initially drew opposition from voting rights advocates for imposing a “poll tax” in the form of a requirement that returning felons pay burdensome fees before regaining their voting rights. The legislation has drawn further criticism by seemingly targeting another voting bloc that has historically favored Democratic candidates: college students.
The sweeping elections reform bill includes language that early voting sites “provide sufficient non-permitted parking to accommodate the anticipated number of voters.” It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out the target here. Finding parking spaces can be a challenge on any college or university campus in our state. In the wake of the increasingly divisive 2020 presidential election, Florida passed a law that makes parking a factor that could force elections supervisors to shun campuses as early voting sites.
What’s most disturbing about this law is not the effort to influence elections, but the message concerning democracy that we’re sending young people. Early voting on Florida’s college campuses generated nearly 60,000 votes in 2018. In a truly free and fair society, encouraging the young to vote and participate in choosing political leaders would be appreciated. Yet, just a year after requiring college students to pass a civic literacy course, we’re sending the message that their vote is dispensable in one of the most important elections of our time.
The fight over early voting on college campuses is not new. In 2014, the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections sought the state’s permission to put an early voting site at the University of Florida. In response, the Scott administration issued a directive prohibiting early voting on any college or university campus. The prohibition sparked a lawsuit, which resulted in a preliminary injunction last July by a federal judge who found the directive violated the Equal Protection Clause as well as the First and Twenty-Sixth amendments.
After a historically close election in 2018, Florida has joined other states that decided keeping college students away from the ballot box is essential to win elections and maintain political power.
In New Hampshire, for example, a new law repeals language that individuals only need establish domicile residence to vote. The new law requires college students to acquire in-state driver’s licenses and register their cars in the state before voting. The state approved another law that allows law enforcement to knock on an individual’s door to ensure that anyone who used same-day registration actually lives at the address they used to register to vote.
College students in Wisconsin must provide poll workers with proof of enrollment before voting. The problem here is that when the law was passed, no state college or university had issued ID cards that met the new requirements. When North Carolina approved its voter suppression ID law last December, it had to be updated after students at 12 of the University of North Carolina’s 17 campuses were prohibited from using their student IDs to vote.
Partisan politics shouldn’t be the driving force when it comes to assuring that a new generation appreciates one of our nation’s most fundamental rights. Voting should be encouraged for the good of our country, not discouraged for crass political gain. Florida may be a must-win state, but that’s no reason for nervous partisans to use parking spaces to suppress the vote.