Florida Sought To Disenfranchise College Students In 2012 Election, Lawmaker Admits

Florida GOP officials continue to use voter suppression tactics to sway elections.

Photo Credit: Irina Silayeva |

Election Day in Florida became a nightmare due to several changes to election law, resulting in marathon lines and more provisional ballots. Now that the election is over, Florida Republicans are beginning to admit the mess was intended to suppress votes.

State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-FL) and GOP chair of Alachua County, Stafford Jones, cooked up one of Florida’s many new laws specifically to keep college students from voting in the 2012 election. The vote-suppressing measures were inspired by the 2010 victory of Gainesville’s first openly gay mayor, Craig Lowe, which Republicans claim was stolen by Florida college students.

Baxley’s law prevented people from voting if they did not change their address a month before Election Day. Many of the people affected were college students or young people who were moving for a new job. Jones explained this vote suppression was intentional and accused liberals of bringing in students to swing the election:

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Baxley said Jones told him that voters from Tampa and other cities shifted their voter registrations to Gainesville for a day to vote in the city’s 2010 mayoral election in which Craig Lowe became the city’s first openly gay mayor by a 42-vote margin.

“It wasn’t right for people to move in and steal an election like that,” Baxley said.

Jones said he wanted the county transfer provision to keep college students from voting.

“The liberals do a good job of bringing in college kids to vote on local issues,” Jones said. “The kids vote on raising our taxes, but don’t have to live here to pay the consequences.”

Jones said he has no proof to support his claim, only recollections of liberal blog posts that people were moving to vote.

Gainesville is the home of the University of Florida, one of the most diverse universities in the nation. College students tend to hold more liberal views, and favored President Obama by 30 percent this year. Disenfranchisement of students is a tried and true Republican tactic. During the recall election of Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) in June, election officials ruled that some student IDs were not eligible for voting and passed a law that made it harder for Wisconsin students to claim residency in the state.

Beyond hijinks at the local level, the Florida GOP admitted soon after the election that the goal of these new laws was always to keep Democratic voters away from the polls. Their efforts at voter suppression succeeded; the number of provisional ballots jumped an average of 25 percent in each county from last year.

Aviva Shen is Associate Editor of ThinkProgress. Before joining CAP, Aviva interned and wrote for Smithsonian Magazine, Salon, and New York Magazine. She also worked for the Slate Political Gabfest, a weekly politics podcast from Slate Magazine.