Students want early voting polls back on UNF’s campus, SG survey shows

Mallory Pace, Government Reporter

[Updated Nov. 7 to include Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan’s statement.]

Early voting was brought to the University of North Florida (UNF) in September of 2018 but was shortly closed in March of 2019, but a new poll from Student Government indicates that students may want an early voting site back on campus.

Four years ago, in July 2018, a federal ruling deemed that excluding students from voting early on college campuses was unconstitutional after a lawsuit was brought on by the League of Women Voters in Florida, Inc. against Florida Secretary of State Kenneth W. Detzner.

 Shortly after, UNF became an early voting site but received the lowest voter turnout in the county with only 448 voters, according to previous Spinnaker reporting. The university charged the Supervisor of Elections $5,000 to rent out the space and, according to Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan, UNF was the only early voting site that charged for space.

In a statement from Hogan, he explained the Florida Statutes regarding early voting sites require the Supervisor of Elections to provide early voting sites that are equitably dispersed geographically throughout the county and are positionally located to provide all voters, as is practical, an equal opportunity to cast a ballot. 

Since there are already two other early voting sites in close proximity to UNF, we do not see the need to add another early voting site in that area of Duval County,” Hogan wrote. “Especially when we need sites in areas of the county that are underserved.”

"early voting site" with big blue arrow point right
A sign points to the Pablo Creek Regional Library near the University of North Florida. (Justin Nedrow)

He explained that the time UNF served as an early voting site in 2018 was a trial experiment and was not a “smooth engagement” as the UNF leadership team did not want early voting on site for three primary reasons– security, traffic and parking; Hogan also received complains from voters about the location.

Hogan said his staff accurately predicted the turnout would be very small for two main reasons: UNF is predominantly a commuter school; UNF has two early voting sites in a 2.5-mile radius from its campus. 

In the November 2018 elections, out of the 12 Florida college campuses with early voting sites, UNF was placed 10th in voter turnout, with 1 in 4 voters being students; UNF was also placed 19th in voter turnout out of the 20 sites in Duval County, Hogan explained. 

“We want every registered voter to vote and part of the proof of that statement is confirmed by the number of early voting sites we provide as well as the fairness of their geographical distribution,” Hogan wrote.

Student Government (SG) Deputy Chief Justice Travis Ford told Spinnaker that the organization has worked with Hogan to reintroduce early voting on campus, an effort that included putting out a survey. 

A total of 415 students responded to the survey (pushed out to the campus community by SG in late September) which found that while 242 students reported they were eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election, only 164 said they actually voted. 

This election season, the poll found that 279 students said that they plan to vote. Two-thirds of respondents reported that access to an on campus early voting site would make them more likely to vote (110 responses) or significantly more likely to vote (148 responses), according to the poll. 

Ford doesn’t anticipate there being an early voting site on campus this semester because it’s so soon. 

“But, with meetings with the elections commissioner and with results from the survey which have been massively successful,” they said, “I think it’s a very possible option we are going to see a voting site on campus with the next election.”

UNF also closed its early voting site because there were no district races on the ballot for the area and there were already two early voting sites near campus, according to Spinnaker reporting in 2019

Currently, there are 20 early voting sites in Duval County, the closest one to UNF being the Pablo Creek Regional Library, about four miles away from campus. 

A woman in a pink shirt and blue pants walks into the library
A woman walks into the Pablo Creek Regional Library where an early voting site was set up on Friday, Oct. 28. (Justin Nedrow)

Over 3,000 students live on UNF’s campus and accessing transportation to early voting sites may be difficult for students who do not own cars. 

“You take into account not only people’s busy schedules, but the fact that people might not have cars or rides to voting locations,” they said. “It guarantees this access to voting rights that was sort of taken away from students.”  

Ford explained that SG is only waiting on approval from Hogan, who Ford said, “stripped UNF of the voting site for largely no reason other than to limit access to voting.” 

Whether or not UNF will become an early voting site again has not been confirmed, but student responses have indicated support for this happening which could play a role in future decisions.


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