After football comparisons, University of Georgia will allow on-campus voting

After an onslaught of criticism from student groups and local politicians for canceling in-person voting but allowing football this fall, the University of Georgia changed direction Thursday, announcing it would offer election officials the use of their basketball arena for students to vote.

Initially, the university was unable to find a suitable location to host early voting on campus, according to an announcement by the student voter registration group UGAVotes.

“We look forward to working with state and local election officials to facilitate on-campus voting in this indoor venue, which is large enough to support safe social distancing,” Greg Trevor, a UGA spokesman, told CNN in an email.

While defending its decision to host football games but cancel its early voting location on Wednesday, Trevor said that “those comparing this matter to a football game should be able to recognize that football games will be played outdoors.”

According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, in order for early voting to take place, the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections must sign on. The board of elections confirmed to CNN that it is currently talking with UGA staff to try to work out the on-campus voting situation.

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In-person voting occurred on UGA’s campus for both the 2016 presidential election and for the 2018 midterm elections. This year, students can still use absentee ballots, which have become increasingly utilized during the Covid-19 pandemic, or vote at an off-campus location in downtown Athens.

“UGA Fair Fight U is pleased that the University has heard the voices of students and decided to make access to voting a priority,” said Juliet Eden, a senior and the communications director of Fair Fight UGA, a division of the voting rights group founded by former Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. “We urge state and local election officials to step up and immediately approve plans for on campus early voting at Stegeman Coliseum so that students are able to make their plan to vote. The last 24 hours have demonstrated that UGA students are committed to fight for our right to vote in a free and fair election.”

The group created a petition Wednesday to bring back early voting to campus, and it had already accrued more than 2,500 signatures Thursday.