Today's story of the day comes from Florida State University and does a great job highlighting the work students are doing to secure their voting rights in Florida!
By: Ross Toback
Florida State students are bringing voter legislation to the top of the agenda on state and federal levels. Jerry Funt of the Progress Coalition at FSU is at the center of bringing voter rights to multiple groups with a focus on college students. With help from other organizations including FairVote and the Florida initiative for Electoral Reform (FLIER), Funt and other student leaders across Florida are doing everything they can to take down 2011’s House Bill 1355.
In that bill, rights to vote for Florida citizens is minimized by a smaller early voting window. This caused up to 250,000 people not being able to vote, according to Funt. Other legislation that minimizes the right to vote for Florida citizens is legislation on felon voting rights. Florida is one of only three states that does not give past felons the right to vote.
The main goal is to turn voting from an implicit right to an explicit right. Nowhere in the constitution is the right to vote specifically mentioned and by giving citizens an explicit right to vote, voters could not be denied by going to the polls. This would be regardless of unchanged information on their voter card or other complications that deny citizens the right to vote.
Funt and other student leaders are focused on bringing a voice to the student. In the recent 2014 municipal elections, Rick Scott and the state of Florida denied University of Florida students from voting at the student union. Funt believes the only way to get legislation reform is through more student involvement.
“When we lobby at the capitol, the legislatures are constantly shocked to see students involved in any way,” Funt said. “Part of this is because students aren’t as much a part of the democratic process. They aren’t targeted. They’re not a concern of a lot of the democratic process. It’s a shame because the university system in Florida is the most powerful force of economic progress in the state of Florida. The university system brings in more money than any other force. Rick Scott and Florida’s government did a study that said for every dollar they put in education they get 20 dollars back. Students aren’t aware that we do have influence. A lot of representatives at the Capitol aren’t in touch with student views. The only way for them to talk to us is to show them that we’re worth talking to and the only way to do that is to show up on election and show them that students do have the right to vote.”
Funt explained students are having a lot issues changing their address information before election time hits and by the time they know to change it, it’s too late. This reduces the amount of student voters tremendously. Those who oppose making voting an explicit right and opening up voter rights for students and other underrepresented groups say that
“Some of the arguments that we’ve heard against [voter reform] were that they feel everyone has the right to vote but that those rights are implicit so what’s the purpose?” Funt said. “Our response is, an implicit right can only go so far compared to an explicit right.”
Another key issue is that the restrictions on voter legislation is to reduce voter fraud. Voter fraud is extremely scarce across the country and in the state of Florida though. In Federal elections between 2002 and 2005, 26 people were convicted of voter fraud, a tiny .00000013 percent of the vote, according to ABC.
Funt believes it’s only a matter of getting enough momentum and support from state congress for this issue to move forward.
“People have been pretty receptive,” Funt said. “The biggest problem we’ve been having is getting people to care about it enough. Most congressmen and elected officials that we’ve talked to understand what we’re doing, they care about it, but they tell us, ‘we don’t know if this is the kind of thing we can get done right now.’ That’s probably the biggest concern we have. We don’t want this to be something that’s put on the backburner because it’s something that needs to be handled now.”