Florida’s supervisors of elections are running out of time to provide equal access to voting to all Florida voters by offering a full two weeks of early in-person voting. The supervisors of elections across the state work year-round to ensure that the right to vote is a meaningful one for Floridians. They don’t get enough credit for being the backbone of our democracy. As the U.S. Supreme Court once said in Reynolds vs. Sims, “The right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights.” Florida law grants supervisors of elections the discretion over how many days of early voting are offered in each county. This has resulted in a confusing patchwork of different early voting days, which can vary county to county, even among counties that are side by side.
My law students — many of whom work while attending school — are busy adults who may not be able to make it to the polls on election day. I can’t tell my law students with confidence that “early voting starts today,” because chances are early voting starts today for some of them and days later for others, even though they are all (nearly without exception) Florida voters and live within miles of each other.
Where I work at Stetson University College of Law, we have two campuses: one in Gulfport in Pinellas County and one in Tampa in Hillsborough County. For the upcoming primary election, in Gulfport early voting starts on Saturday, but in Tampa early voting started Monday. And of course the rules depend on where the voter lives, not where he or she is working or attending school.
This county-by-county crazy-quilt patchwork approach to early voting in Florida does not give equal access to the polls for our law students or any of the other voters in the greater Tampa Bay area, or voters throughout the state. And this is a nonpartisan issue. Republican, Democratic and independent voters could all use the convenience of early voting.