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Thursday, May 06, 2021

When campaigning on campus, you get the chance to talk to a lot of people. Many students are excited to get involved, to learn more and to vote. Others, not so much. Some laugh at you and actively delight in their indifference.

We all have busy lives, academic obligations and all sorts of stressors that come up over the course of the semester. It’s also true that while some of us are privileged enough to devote countless hours in the pursuit of votes and volunteering, most people are not able to or have no desire to. 

But there’s no excuse not to pay attention to current events. Speak out when a government’s action bothers you, or cast a ballot on or before Election Day especially when doing so is easier than ever (with some exceptions that warrant an entire separate column).

For example, let’s take a look at the Student Government elections that occur over two days every September and February. This fall’s elections are on Sept. 24 and 25. The 50 senators elected each semester allocate over $22,000,000 in student fees, which comes out to about $2,000 per student over eight semesters at UF. This money has endless potential to make students safer, healthier and happier.

Yet, in the Spring 2019 Student Government election, only 10,708 students voted. UF’s Fall 2018 enrollment was 56,079 students. That means about 80% of students did not vote.

Should remote online voting be an option, as it is at countless institutions across the state and country? Yes. Should elections be advertised better by SG? Yes.

These realities need to change but they aren’t excuses to not make your voice heard, especially when voting only takes a few minutes and there’s ample opportunity to do so.

Local, state and federal elections are no different. 

For years, UF students who wanted to vote early in these races had to venture to the Supervisor of Elections office on Main Street or another location around town. Now, thanks to the work of a group of student activists, we are able to cast our votes in the Reitz Union well before Election Day. Vote-by-mail has also become more accessible with the advent of prepaid postage.

A democracy like ours requires participation in order for accurate representation to exist. When eligible citizens decline to show up to the polls or public meetings, elected officials have little incentive to advocate on their behalf. 

But still, there is a pervasive culture among college students, including at UF, which says civic engagement is for older people or that it is not necessary until homeownership or full-time employment. The idea that any student is “too cool” to vote, volunteer for a campaign or run for office themselves is toxic and leads to a dangerous lack of representation of the student population. 

Government and politics are personal. They affect every one of us, our neighbors and our classmates. The results of elections have tangible effects on the services we receive, the resources that are available to us and the livelihoods of so many.

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The next time someone on campus asks you if you have a plan to vote, take a moment to consider why in the world they would be out in the heat or rain, for hours on end devoting their time to conversing with random passersby.

The answer is simple — because it matters. 

It’s not cool to not care.

Ben Lima is a UF political science senior.

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