Democrats contend Gov. Rick Scott is "laying roadblocks to voting" because of a state Division of Elections opinion that the student union at the University of Florida can't be used as an early voting location.
Meanwhile, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said Friday his group will determine if a challenge is possible to "this attack on the voting rights" of students.
The debate stems from a Jan. 17 advisory opinion from state Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews, after Gainesville officials requested a ruling on the use of the Reitz Union as an early voting location for March 11 municipal elections. The opinion also has refueled longstanding claims by Democrats that Republicans are trying to suppress voting rights.
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, claimed Friday that the state elections official misinterpreted the Legislature's attempt to avoid repeating 2012 election problems when she ruled that the Reitz Union doesn't fit the definition of "government-owned community center" or "convention center" for use as an early voting location.
"The Reitz Union is government-owned, as the University of Florida is a public institution founded and funded by the state of Florida," Clemens wrote to Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Scott appointee. "The Reitz Union is also a community center, obviously. There is no ambiguity in the statute, nor is there any in the public nature or purpose of the Reitz Union. The statute is crystal clear, straightforward and with no room for misinterpretation."
A spokeswoman for Detzner said Friday the "opinion speaks for itself."
During the 2013 session, the Legislature approved a measure (HB 7013) that allows supervisors of elections to use fairgrounds, civic centers, courthouses, county commission buildings, stadiums, convention centers, government-owned senior centers and government-owned community centers for early voting.
The wide-ranging election reform law, signed by Scott, also allows elections supervisors to designate one additional site per county in areas where no authorized sites exist.
In the Jan. 17 advisory opinion, Matthews noted the term "educational facilities" failed to be included in the final version of the reform effort.
The student center is used as one of Alachua County's 63 Election Day polling locations.
Simon deemed the advisory "a transparently political interpretation of the law intended to make it harder for students to vote."
Rep. Clovis Watson, D-Alachua, who joined other lawmakers in a Democratic release on Friday, said that unless the advisory is reversed, the impression will be that the governor "may be attempting to thwart the student vote at one of our states most important educational institutions.
Meanwhile former Gov. Charlie Crist, seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, plans a visit to the campus on Wednesday to discuss what he called in a release "this awful insult" to students and voters.