Right to Vote Resolution Passes Florida State University Student Government
Florida State University (FSU) students are organizing to combat statewide voting policies that restrict student access. Their target is Florida’s 2011 House Bill 1355, a 128-page bill that made sweeping changes to the state’s election laws. Passed along party lines, the bill shrank the early voting window, weakened absentee voting, placed new restrictions on voter registration drives, and made it more difficult for people with new addresses to vote.
The FSU student government passed a Right to Vote Resolution that takes aim at HB 1355. It states:
We call on the Florida Legislature to repeal House Bill 1355, which places an undue burden on organizations that register voters… We call on the Florida Legislature and Governor Rick Scott to reinstate early voting for at least 14 days before an election.
Many Florida students feel targeted by the state’s restrictive voting laws, explained Jerry Funt, president of the Progress Coalition at FSU. These concerns crystalized when the Division of Elections, which is run by an appointee of Governor Scott, denied the University of Florida (UF) an early voting site on campus in the 2014 municipal elections. Student access problems became a rallying cry for university activists.
“Without freedom to participate, government fails to represent a lot of people,” Funt said. Funt and members of his organization became the main proponents of the FSU resolution, which took the fight one step further by seeking a constitutional guarantee of the right to vote. The resolution further reads:
We call on members of the Florida Legislature to strengthen the right to vote stated in Section 2 of the Constitution of Florida through statute… We call on our members of Congress, and our representatives in the state legislature, to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would grant an explicit right to vote to every American citizen of voting age.
A constitutional amendment would protect the right to vote and would encumber Florida’s ability to pass suppressive voting bills like HB 1355. This is because, as a constitutional right, any change in voting would be subject to strict scrutiny review by courts, which require a compelling state interest. “Currently, changes in laws regarding voting are not held to [strict] scrutiny,” Funt explained.
FSU is not alone in seeking structural means to strengthen voting rights in Florida. Members of the Florida State Legislature are following suit through the introduction of two bills: House Memorial 1283 calls for a federal right to vote and House Bill 1073 would strengthen the state right to vote. On the national level, House Joint Resolution 44 would enshrine an individual right to vote in the Constitution. The passage of these bills would be “monumental,” Funt said, and his organization is set to “continue pushing” them until they succeed.
FSU’s resolution was modeled on FairVote’s Promote Our Vote project’s resources. Students received help organizing from the Florida Initiative for Electoral Reform. Learn about other communities that are taking proactive steps to improve voting at PromoteOurVote.com, and find out how you can get involved in your community.