Trevor told The Washington Post that eligible voting locations are determined by the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections. The board could not immediately be reached for comment.
A day earlier, the school cited long lines and insufficient indoor space as making voting on campus too risky, prompting swift backlash. Students, local politicians and observers noted UGA had made numerous accommodations so the fall football season can play out, with crowds of up to 23,000 fans in Sanford Stadium.
“If we can have football, we should have voting, too,” the university chapter of Fair Fight, a voting rights advocacy group, tweeted on Wednesday.
The school dismissed those criticisms. “Those comparing this matter to a football game should be able to recognize that football games will be played outdoors but we will still require social distancing by substantially reducing capacity in the stadium,” it said in a statement.
UGA Votes, a student-led, nonpartisan voter engagement organization, welcomed Thursday’s news. Marshall Berton, a UGA junior who serves as the group’s executive director, told The Post that student interest in casting a ballot this year is particularly strong.
“I think people are really excited: For a lot of university students, this is our first presidential election,” Berton said. “This does feel like a really crucial election, no matter what side you’re on.”
It remains unclear what prompted UGA’s change of course Thursday; university officials did not elaborate on deliberations behind the change. Berton said his group has not received an explanation.
UGA Votes hosted early voting sites in 2016 and 2018 at the Tate Student Center in partnership with the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections, Berton said, but the group was denied use of the center for 2020, mostly due to social distancing concerns.
The group then moved to use Stegeman Coliseum and approached UGA’s athletic department with the request in early September, Berton said, and the election board was ready to take action until UGA denied the request to use the arena.
“Their primary issue was that they needed to thoroughly clean the facility every night the way they do classrooms,” Berton said. “They didn’t feel that could be adapted to the coliseum based on the proposal.”
He said the group generally agreed the Tate Center was not feasible this year but was confused that the school’s Wednesday statement never addressed whether Stegeman could be used as an alternate site.
Berton noted that UGA faced heavy “internal and external pressure” late Wednesday after the decision drew commentary from elected officials in the state.
“The other reason could be that the first request just didn’t make it up … in the hierarchy of university’s administration,” Berton said. He noted it was never clear which administrator denied the initial request.
Early voting in Georgia runs from Oct. 12 to Oct. 30, with on-campus early voting expected to run three days near the end of October, Berton said.
The UGA voting news unfolded against the backdrop of the state’s contentious battles over voter disenfranchisement and access. Republican Brian Kemp, now the governor, has been accused of voter suppression while he was overseeing a tight election as secretary of state and simultaneously running for his current office.
Before the announcement to host on-campus voting, UGA said it would offer student voters shuttle service to an off-site polling place in downtown Athens. That decision, juxtaposed with the school’s controversial football season set to begin later this month, did not sit well with some critics.
Stacey Abrams, who founded Fair Fight after losing to Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial election, said the campus should reverse its decision.
“#COVID19 must never be used as an excuse to limit voting access, including on college campuses,” she said in a tweet.
Many local and national politicians, current students and alumni echoed Abrams’s concerns about student access to the polls.
Darren Sands contributed to this report.