Republicans continue to face a tidal wave of support for Democrats heading into the midterm elections later this year. Now, however, they will have at least one less provision on their side in their efforts to tamp down on the Democratic surge.
This week, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker overturned a 2014 decision by Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner to ban early voting on college campuses. The state’s early voting statute did not explicitly address college campuses ahead of Detzner’s original decision.
In response to the move, Walker wrote:
‘Throwing up roadblocks in front of younger voters does not remotely serve the public interest. Abridging voter rights never does.’
He delivered his ruling in response to a lawsuit brought by some college students and the League of Women Voters in May. He did not require college buildings to be used as early voting sites. Instead, he simply demanded that campuses be available as an option if local election officials deem them appropriate to use.
The League of Women Voters was understandably pleased with the ruling. The organization’s president Patricia Brigham commented:
‘The court ruling demonstrates that making it easier for our students to vote truly matters… With this decision, we have an affirmation that making early voting accessible to all is part of a true democracy.’
GOP Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office simply said that they were reviewing the decision. Detzner still serves as Florida’s Secretary of State, originally assuming his position following confirmation by the Florida state Senate in 2012.
Detzner has led assaults on voter rights outside of the case of early voting on college campuses. In 2012, the Justice Department demanded he stop state efforts to purge their voter rolls of individuals they suspected weren’t U.S. citizens that had left actual U.S. citizens caught up in the culling. Hispanics, Democrats, and individuals with no party affiliation were tagged the most often in Florida’s efforts to find noncitizens who were registered to vote.
These efforts to disenfranchise possible voters have consequences. In 2016, Donald Trump won Michigan by only about 11,000 votes. Were that situation to have unfolded in Florida, college students with tight schedules who only had a chance to vote early could have changed the outcome. The University of Florida — the original subject of Detzner’s restrictive decision — has tens of thousands of students enrolled, and even more students attend classes at the University of Central Florida.
Trump also won Wisconsin, which had restrictive voter ID laws in place during the 2016 election, by a slim margin. He finished with fewer than 30,000 votes more than Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.
Judge Walker’s new ruling is the only the latest to undercut Republican efforts to slant the electoral process in their favor. Earlier this year, the judiciary ruled that Pennsylvania must institute a new Congressional district map, throwing out the old one as illegally meant to favor the GOP. Democrats could take several U.S. House seats just in Pennsylvania this fall, helping them be well on their way to the couple dozen they need to take back control of the body.
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