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Gainesville mayor blasts Crist, Nelson in early-vote dispute

Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy Jr. pushed back hard Tuesday at Democrats who have seized on a legal opinion by Gov. Rick Scott's administration that the University of Florida student union does not fit the legal definition of an early voting site.

"It is disheartening to see Sen. Bill Nelson and the evermore candidate Charlie Crist attempt to turn the serious issue of voting rights into cheap campaign fodder," Braddy said in a release issued by the city. "The fact is Gainesville extended the number of locations for early voting this year and we are continuing to look for additional sites in a manner consistent with the law. We will continue to build on our strong relationship with the University of Florida to encourage student participation in local government.

"For Sen. Nelson to liken Gainesville to a third world outpost is beneath the dignity of a United States senator and more in line with a partisan operative.  The fact is, when Charlie Crist was governor, Florida cities had more restrictive conditions on early voting. The law was broadened in 2013 after Crist left office. It has gotten easier, not harder.

"Although the law is not perfect, it is an improvement upon the past. Every registered voter in Gainesville will have the opportunity to vote in the upcoming elections. I am proud of our city and her efforts to ensure that every voter has a chance to participate our elections."

For the record, Braddy, 42, is a registered Republican.

UF students had asked the city if the Reitz Union could serve as an early voting site for the March 11 city elections. The city sought legal guidance from the state Division of Elections, which said the student union is not a "government-owned community center," one category of early voting sites approved by the 2013 Legislature.

Here's what UF spokeswoman Janine Sykes said about the early voting controversy: "We're not opposed to the concept of hosting early voting on campus, but we are precluded by state law from doing so."