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Civil Rights Groups Pressure Miami-Dade County For Early Voting On College Campuses

Jessica Bakeman
Melba Pearson, deputy director of the ACLU of Florida, speaks during a press conference in downtown Miami regarding the county's plan not to offer early voting on college campuses.

Local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters and several other groups are calling on Miami-Dade County to offer early voting on college campuses here.

The groups argue college students often lack transportation to get to the polls, and many have classes or work obligations on Election Day. So they could be disenfranchised without access to early voting on their campuses.

"We’re hoping that by giving public pressure … we can have some movement," said Melba Pearson, who is deputy director of the ACLU of Florida and also president of an association representing black women lawyers. "But if that fails, we will take whatever appropriate action is necessary."

Christina White, county supervisor of elections, said in a statement that the 25 locations for early voting are already set, "since preparations for large elections begin well in advance.

"In selecting early voting sites, the county’s goal is to ensure there is maximum accessibility for all voters," White said.

FIU and MDC serve among the highest populations of Hispanic students in the country. The advocates argue that excluding the campuses from early voting would result in driving down voter participation among minorities.

Some of the state’s majority white universities — including the University of Florida in Gainesville and Florida State University in Tallahassee — will be used as early voting sites.

"It is disappointing that we have major universities and major colleges that serve predominantly people of color, minority students, and they’re not being engaged, and they’re not given the same access that we see for a lot of other campuses across the state," said Dan Horton, the state director for All Voting Is Local Florida, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that advocates for voting access.

The advocates' push follows a federal judge's July ruling striking down a previous statewide ban on early voting at college campuses.

Several counties have moved to offer early voting on college and university campuses in their areas following the decision, including Palm Beach County at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
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