By Jim DeFede

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – After spending weeks saying it would not allow early voting on college campuses this year, Miami Dade County appears ready to reverse course and set up additional sites at Miami Dade College and Florida International University.

On Friday, election officials visited the main FIU campus scouting possible locations while discussions were also underway with Miami Dade College about using its north campus as a spot where students and staff could vote.

The change in direction came after increased pressure on the county from civic groups hoping to increase voting among young voters.

Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez signaled the shift Friday morning, as he seemed to embrace the rationale for early voting on college campuses.

“An additional early voting site just makes it easier for the students there to vote,” Gimenez acknowledged. “So we will determine if that is something we really want to do. We do want everybody to have access to early voting.”

Gimenez said the final list of early voting sites has to be in place by Thursday.

“We still have a little bit of time before we make that final decision,” he said.

During a press conference on Thursday, the League of Women Voters and a group of students held a press conference outside County Hall demanding more early voting sites.

“So many times people my age are told we need to get involved into politics, to stop being lazy, we need to involve ourselves, but when we do show we want to be involved, the people in power refuse to listen to us. They refuse to acknowledge that we have a voice,” said Samantha Skhir, a senior at FIU. “They set up unconstitutional barriers to prevent us from voting and then drag their feet to remove those barriers.

“Making it easier to vote should not be a partisan issue,” she continued. “Many people believe that early voting on campuses is a liberal conspiracy. But I’m a lifelong Republican. I have a voice and we all vote and we are on campus as well. Miami Dade County needs to do the right thing.”

For years, Governor Rick Scott and the legislature have tried to stymie voting by college students by banning early voting sites on college campuses. Those efforts were challenged in a lawsuit by a group of students and the Florida League of Women Voters. In July, a federal judge struck down the state ban.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker was scathing. He said the state’s effort to block young voters was “constitutionally untenable” and was creating a “secondary class of voters.” He also said the state’s actions “reveals a stark pattern of discrimination” against young people.

“Throwing up roadblocks in front of younger voters does not remotely serve the public interest,” the judge wrote. “Abridging voting rights never does.”

As soon as the ruling came down, colleges and universities across the state offered their campuses as early voting sites. And this year there will be early voting sites at Florida State, the University of Florida, Florida Atlantic and many others.

Efforts by FIU and Miami Dade College, however were rebuffed by the county election departments. Election officials told the schools they had already selected all of their early voting sites and didn’t feel the need to expand them. They said they would consider adding college campuses in 2020.

In response, Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron wrote to Christina White, the county’s election supervisor, on August 16 asking the county to reconsider.

“I was surprised your office did not welcome the opportunity to add more voting locations for Miami Dade County residents,” he wrote. “We would hope your office could see this as an opportunity to inspire a new generation to get more involved, to become more active members of their communities, and to cast their vote.”

Despite his pleas, the county continued to say it would not allow early voting on college campuses this year.

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