Voting isn’t just a necessary part of democracy. Voting is democracy. And, as the Supreme Court ruled in a 1979 landmark case, students establishing residency have the right to vote in the communities where they attend college. Students pay state sales tax. They are subject to the jurisdiction of the court system where they attend school. Most importantly, students are directly impacted by the decisions made by elected officials in the city, county and state governments where they attend college. Yet, at UF, the status quo prevents far too many students from exercising their fundamental voting rights.
A study conducted by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement indicates that only about one in 10 students cite lack of interest as their reason for not voting. Unsurprisingly, research from the Fair Elections Legal Network indicates that college students are far more likely to cite being too busy or having conflicting work as their reasons for not voting than both their non-collegiate peers and members of other age groups.
Clearly, a significant portion of the student population want to vote but can’t. Students’ busy schedules and their lack of transportation can make voting on Election Day difficult. As the supervisor of elections of Alachua County said, early voting is a “convenient alternative to traditional Election Day voting.” For students, this alternative is often the difference between having the ability to decide who should have power in city hall, Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., and having others make decisions for them.
The UF Student Senate unanimously passed a bill sponsored by members of both political parties urging local policymakers to establish an on-campus early voting location. In reaction to the passionate response by the Student Body and persistent efforts by Student Government, the city commission has taken initial action to approve an early voting location on the UF campus. This proposal, along with a separate initiative to align the date of city elections to coincide with the date of state and federal elections, would benefit the students, staff and faculty at UF along with the many other Alachua County residents who would undoubtedly benefit from these important reforms.
Despite the current momentum of the movement to institute an early voting location at UF, we must all continue to pressure elected officials — specifically those in city government — to follow through on their promises.
Establishing an on-campus early voting location isn’t just important for our students. It’s also important for our democracy.
[A version of this letter to the editor ran on page 7 on 1/28/2014 under the headline "UF students deserve an on-campus early voting location"]