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Friday, September 29, 2023
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In past semesters, students couldn't walk through Turlington Plaza during Student Government campaign season without being bombarded by SG candidates.

However, social distancing measures in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic are changing many aspects of Student Government, including elections, meetings and tabling. Here’s what’s changing and what’s still being discussed for Fall.

Will elections be online or in-person?

Over the Summer, many senators submitted legislation aiming to transition to online voting in the Fall SG election. But it is still unclear if the elections will be online or in-person.

Online voting remains a long-debated issue in SG. In 2006, SG’s Supreme Court declared online voting unconstitutional, and in 2019, an amendment for online voting failed.

Other universities in Florida, like Florida State University, University of Central Florida and University of South Florida give students the option to vote online. During a Spring 2019 debate, both Inspire and Gator Party executive candidates agreed that online voting would be beneficial.

Sen. Sahil Patel (Inspire, Hume) helped write a code revision that would allow SG absentee ballots to be administered online. This would replace the current system where absentee ballots are mailed to students, Patel said, and would help students who want to vote but cannot vote in- person.

However, the Judiciary Committee, a group of senators who decide what non-budget legislation goes to senators to be voted on, failed the bill August 2 in a vote of 6 to 1.

Some members said the mail-in absentee ballot would work, and dual-factor authentication on the digital absentee ballots wouldn’t be a “foolproof” method for having online elections.

Sen. Marcus Nelson (Gator, Beaty Towers) was the only senator on the committee to vote against failing the bill. During the meeting, he said SG shouldn’t have the election in-person. And because the virus can live on surfaces, he said, it would be irresponsible to encourage mail-in ballots.

Sen. Zachery Utt (Inspire, Engineering) wrote a petition for the SG Supreme Court asking the judges to rule on if a plan he created for online absentee ballots is constitutional. It outlines a new process for online absentee voting. In his plan, each student will vote through a quiz on a Canvas course, and Honorlock will proctor the quiz and check the student’s ID and face, Utt said.

Utt plans to submit the petition to the Supreme Court as soon as possible, he said.

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SG Supervisor of Elections Hayley Price is working on a plan for elections that abides by new university COVID-19 safety guidelines for events, SG Election Codes and the Student Body Constitution, she wrote in an email to The Alligator.

She did not answer questions asking whether elections will be online or in-person, whether online voting would be beneficial for immunocompromised students or students who aren’t in Gainesville, and what safety measures will be in place if elections are in-person.

However, during Senate on Aug. 11, Price presented an in-person election plan. She said elections will be socially distant, and if certain polling locations have computer or technical issues, students will be asked to visit other locations. If technical issues persist, the time for voting may be extended.

SG’s Supervisor of Elections typically reads election results aloud at the Reitz Union every year. However, with university policy limiting indoor events to 50 people in Fall, it is unclear whether this will be possible. Price did not answer The Alligator’s questions asking if election results will be announced at the Reitz Union or if a new location will be chosen.

Will Senate be online or in-person?

Senate will be online this Fall, Senate President Kyle Garner wrote in an email to The Alligator.

This will allow senators to serve in their position whether they are in Gainesville or not, he wrote. It will also help ensure the safety of students and faculty.

Senate has been meeting online since March, after UF urged students to return home. The second online Senate meeting was “Zoom bombed” by hackers, and the Senate meeting schedule became inconsistent in Spring.

Senate passed a bill in its last Summer meeting that only allows meetings to be held virtually during an official local, state or federal state of emergency. Majority party leader Gabi Zlatanoff (Gator, District A) wrote the bill to outline the criteria for future online meetings, she wrote in an email to The Alligator.

Senate cannot meet in-person, according to university event guidelines for Fall. The rules state that a maximum of 50 people may attend indoor events in the Fall. According to Senate codes, at least 51 senators must be present to meet quorum, or the minimum number of representatives required for a meeting to take place.

Zlatanoff did not respond to questions asking how this code will coincide with UF’s guidelines in Fall and if Senate could meet if Florida was not in a state of emergency but it was unsafe for senators to gather in-person.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for Florida March 9 and extended it July 7. The state of emergency will expire in early September unless DeSantis extends it again.

How will campaigning and tabling work?

Senators will be required to table online for at least two hours in Fall. The tabling will be set up so students can ask senators questions in an “office hour” like setting over Zoom.

Senate passed a bill at the beginning of August that requires senators to hold virtual office hours, or tabling, for two hours in the Fall, Rules and Ethics Committee Chair Feraby Hoffman said during a Rules and Ethics and Information and Communications meeting.

This will replace the in-person two-hour tabling requirement for senators, but it is unclear if Senators can also choose to table and campaign in-person.

During the online tabling, students will be able to ask questions and interact with senators, Information and Communication Committee Chair David Kays said during the meeting. This will especially help incoming freshmen who want to learn about SG, he added.

Zlatanoff wrote in an email to The Alligator that the Gator Caucus is waiting for guidance on what the campaign season will look like. Once that information is available, they will work on a plan that follows the guidelines, she wrote.

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Meghan McGlone

Meghan McGlone is a UF junior majoring in journalism and English, and this year she’s the City and County Commission reporter. In past years, she’s served as the University Editor, the Student Government reporter, and other positions. Her favorite past time is eating gummy worms and reading a good book.

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