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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Standing in Turlington Plaza with a plastic stars-and-stripes top hat on his head and a voter registration form in his hand, it's hard to tell if Frank Bracco is sweating from the blazing afternoon sun or the stress of so many excuses.

"I don't vote" is common, Bracco said.

So are "I don't have time" and "I'm not informed enough."

He said the strangest excuse for not registering to vote was "I'm planning to die soon."

As director of Chomp the Vote, Bracco said he hopes to change UF students' views on voting.

Since the first day of classes, he has led a staff of about 30 in a voter's registration drive that ends today.

Chomp the Vote is a Student Government program designed to increase student turnout at all types of elections, he said.

By 1:30 p.m. Monday, more than 300 students were registered to vote in Alachua County, he said.

Bracco said he was pleased with the results but hopes to register at least 400 students by the end of the drive.

The drive is just the beginning of a longer campaign, he said.

Other projects included sending 4,000 registration forms to about eight different apartment complexes and supplying 7,600 forms to residence halls, he said. Bracco said he also wants to supply forms to fraternity and sorority houses.

Chomp the Vote also plans to hold a local candidate forum at Emerson Hall and a mock online election in January, he added.

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The forum will allow UF students to question potential Gainesville politicians. The mock election will let students see how their political beliefs match up against their peers, he said.

In addition, Bracco said he wants to change the program's image.

After a successful premiere in 2004, when Chomp the Vote registered 8,000 voters, the organization practically disappeared for the next two years.

For the 2004 presidential election, the organization drove UF students to the polls in limos and spent about ,30,000 on voting initiatives and incentives.

Now, the organization is limited to about ,1,500 for fall and a total budget of ,6,000.

Though Bracco said he expects to spend more for the upcoming primary election, he doesn't think Chomp the Vote's expenses will get anywhere near the ,6,000 cap.

Bracco said Student Body President Ryan Moseley has committed to reviving the organization.

"Before we can say that Chomp the Vote is revived, we need to reach at least 1,000 registrations," Bracco said. "I want that number to at least be between 3,000 and 5,000 by the end of the year."

The two biggest obstacles Bracco said he faces are a lack of political education and widespread student apathy, especially in Florida.

According to an article from The Associated Press, 40,000 fewer 18- to 29-year-olds in Florida went to the polls in 2006 than in 2002.

Nationally, voter turnout in that age group had increased by 3 percent.

The article states that only Texas, Utah and West Virginia had lower turnout.

Bracco said a major culprit is a weak political education in Florida high schools.

"A lot of students don't really want to pay attention, but a lot just aren't informed," he said.

For this reason, he said Chomp the Vote is working on several educational forums for the upcoming national primaries and local elections to combat the problem.

Student apathy may be harder to tackle.

"In the end, it's up to the students to take the time to educate themselves," he said.

Bracco said one strategy is to prove to students how quick and easy registering can be.

"It literally takes a minute and a half to register," Bracco said. "If you register in Alachua, you can come to campus and vote in your PJs."

Another tactic is to show students their votes can have an impact, which is especially true in local elections, he said.

Though the exact numbers were not available, Bracco said there was a larger turnout for the spring SG elections than turnout for Gainesville's city election in the spring.

Only about 10 percent of the approximate 70,000 students at UF and SFCC are registered to vote in Alachua County, he said.

If the numbers mobilized, UF students could swing the vote on local elections and have a more significant say on issues like roam towing, bar closing times and housing codes, he said.

"Real Gators vote," Bracco said. "If you're not involved in your community, you're not a real Gator."

Claressa Midgette, a UF sophomore, registered to vote Monday afternoon, and echoed Bracco's sentiments.

Midgette said she registered because she believes her vote matters.

She added that it only took a minute.

"I think it's my American duty to take part in elections," Midgette said. "If you don't vote, you better not complain."

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