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Thursday, March 23, 2023

While we’re still figuring out who actually won some of the recent elections, let’s talk about some less-than-honest Student Government politicians who tried to claim credit for making early voting on campus happen.

Back in 2014, Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner barred college campuses from being used as early voting sites. His opinion was specific to the Reitz Union but further excluded all campus options across the state. This meant the choices were to either pass a law explicitly allowing college campuses as early voting sites or to challenge the ruling.

Time to meet the players: There’s Chomp the Vote, SG’s voting-related agency; and External Affairs, SG’s lobbying agency.

Outside of SG, there’s the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, which, among other awesome things, supports several student groups such as the UF chapter of the Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Vote Everywhere Ambassadors.

So here’s what I know, based off emails, public records requested and a pre-owned ouija board I bought off Craigslist: To my knowledge, SG had been trying for several years to enact change in the state legislature to little avail.

This year, they just went ahead and tried to set up an early voting site at the University Women’s Club clubhouse on Woodlawn Drive. Honestly, I had no idea what the Women’s Club was and where it was located until I Googled it, so perhaps it wasn’t the best location for an early voting site. Chomp the Vote started the effort around the end of May and was shot down by the University Athletic Association (which owns the building) on June 13.

Around the same time, External Affairs was talking to local entities about the possibility of having an early voting location at UF. I think its perspective on the matter can be summed up by a single line I cherry-picked from one of its emails that read, “I do not believe an early voting location on UF for this election cycle will be possible.”

While all this was going on, a lawsuit against the secretary of state was in progress to challenge the state’s interpretation of the law. The plaintiffs were the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Andrew Goodman Foundation, several UF students (including two Vote Everywhere Ambassadors) and one FSU student.

We all know how the lawsuit turned out, but was SG involved? One email by Chomp the Vote mentions “a lawsuit against the state of Florida from the League of Women Voters,” but adds that “(we are not a part of that).”

Chomp the Vote moved on, trying (and failing) to get SNAP vans to shuttle students to the polls. As I mentioned last week, they also tried and failed to change RTS bus routes to help students get to the polls. “Huge accomplishment to helping Gators have their voices heard during Early Voting by rerouting a RTS bus” wrote the Student Body president, unaware that the motion before the city commission that passed was simply to consider the idea.

So, were there shuttles or RTS buses to help students get to the polls during the primary? Nah. What about during election day? Nope. Real good lobbying there, SG.

When the day came that the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Facebook page posted a graphic denoting the Reitz Union as an early voting site, out came the partisan credit-gobbling. The Student Body president credited SG. The heads of Chomp the Vote and External Affairs were tagged in congratulatory Facebook posts, raising a lot of eyebrows by those who knew what actually happened. I don’t think SG did anything to deserve the slightest bit of credit for making the Reitz an early voting location.

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So was the credit-claiming dishonesty or simply incompetence? Maybe somewhere in between. Members of SG are generally clueless as to what’s going on, so maybe they just thought, “Wow, this good thing happened, so it was probably us.” Those who were in the know probably weren’t principled enough to make note that early voting at the Reitz really wasn’t thanks to SG, and I think that’s a crying shame.

Zachariah Chou is a UF political science junior and Murphree Area Senator. His column appears on Fridays.


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