Miami-Dade County

GOP: If college students get campus early voting in Miami-Dade, what about elderly?

Early voting has sparked a controversy in Miami-Dade as the county faces pressure to add sites to college campuses in the wake of a July court decision allowing them statewide. The head of Miam-Dade’s Republican Party said it’s not fair to make early voting more convenient for college students without adding early-voting sites near senior centers, too.
Early voting has sparked a controversy in Miami-Dade as the county faces pressure to add sites to college campuses in the wake of a July court decision allowing them statewide. The head of Miam-Dade’s Republican Party said it’s not fair to make early voting more convenient for college students without adding early-voting sites near senior centers, too. cmguerrero@miamiherald.com

With Miami-Dade under pressure to expand early voting to college campuses, the head of the county’s Republican Party wants to know why senior citizens aren’t being considered for the same upgrade.

“If there is any group of voters that deserve special attention and easier methods of voting, it is our seniors,” wrote Miami-Dade GOP Chairman Nelson Diaz in a letter to the county’s elections supervisor. “Many of them no longer drive or they find that accessing public transportation is too difficult for them at that age.”

Diaz said most college students in Miami-Dade commute to school, meaning they already manage to travel from home to campus and should be able to make their way to the current roster of planned early-voting sites. Asking “students to go to one of the 25 early voting locations in the county is a minimal imposition,” Diaz wrote to elections chief Christina White.

In July, a federal judge struck down a ban on campus early voting imposed four years ago by the administration of Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott. College students are a reliable voting bloc for Democrats. Groups favoring Democratic candidates and causes, including New Florida Majority and NextGen, are part of the push for Miami-Dade to follow the lead of other large counties and add colleges to its list of early-voting locations.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Republican in a nonpartisan post, oversees the Elections Department and issued a statement last week saying his administration was “looking into” the possibility of campus early voting.

The statement also noted that with most college students in Miami-Dade commuting to campus, the county didn’t have the same need for early voting at school as did universities with dormitory populations.

Gimenez’s office issued a statement Tuesday night that the mayor planned an update on early-voting sites sometime Wednesday afternoon. On the Diaz letter, Gimenez said in the statement: “We take the issue of access to voting seriously for all concerned.”

Election administrators previously declined to change Miami-Dade’s published early-voting plan after the scathing July 24 decision by U.S. Judge Mark Walker, who decried “throwing up roadblocks in front of younger voters.” In August, Miami Dade College wrote the county urging it to reconsider the decision and bring early voting to its students — a request that Miami Mayor Francis Suarez made in his own letter to White last week.

Dan Horton, a former student-body president at Florida International University’s law school who is now state director for All Voting is Local, described Diaz’s proposal as unhelpful since campuses are home to a population of students and faculty larger than some small cities.

“If you can put me in the direction of a senior center with 50,000 voters, we’d be the first ones to line up for putting an early-voting location there,” Horton said. “We’re really concerned the partisan focus is going to muddy up the issue here.”

In his letter on Republican Party letterhead, Diaz said Miami-Dade should stick with its existing roster of early-voting sites, already the most in Florida. But if the county should “acquiesce to the demands of a small minority,” Diaz urged Miami-Dade only to put new early-voting sites in areas near colleges but still off-campus in order for them to be more accessible to the public.

If campuses get early-voting sites, he said, “it would only seem fair that Miami-Dade County locate early-voting sites as near as possible to every senior center in the county.”

For now, Miami-Dade is home to the largest campuses in Florida that won’t have polling places when early voting starts Oct. 22. Local election administrators added early-voting sites to University of Central Florida, Florida State, and the University of Florida in the weeks after Walker’s decision.

“Miami-Dade is the hold-out, which is incredible,” said Florida League of Women Voters president Patti Brigham, who has been lobbying local governments to expand early voting to campuses after the court decision. “It’s the largest county in Florida.”

Democratic candidates, including former University of Miami president Donna Shalala, have taken up the cause for campus early voting. New Florida Majority president Andrea Mercado participated in a press conference outside County Hall last week urging Miami-Dade to bring early-voting to UM, FIU and Miami-Dade College.

On Tuesday, she said she welcomed the call for more early-voting sites anywhere in the county.

“I think there should be early-voting sites at senior centers and college campuses,” she said. “We should be doing everything possible to expand democracy, not limit it.”

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