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Friday, June 14, 2024
Absentee ballot
Absentee ballot

Some COVID-19 positive and off-campus students couldn’t vote in the Student Government elections after receiving their absentee ballots late or not at all.

About 3,700 students voted through absentee ballots or during the early voting option in the Fall SG election. Absentee, mail-in ballots were more prevalent this SG election. 

Absentee ballots are mailed by Supervisor of Elections Hayley Price to students who don’t want to or can’t physically vote at the polls. The UF Supreme Court Chief Justice, Kyle Soch, is in charge of counting the absentee ballots.

Soch and Price did not respond to questions about the amount of absentee ballots cast or counted in the Fall election.

After students received their ballots, they needed to send it back to the university by Oct. 2. Some students said they received their ballot on that day and some didn’t receive them at all. The deadline to request a ballot was Sept. 23. 

In an email, Price did not directly respond to questions about absentee ballots arriving late or not at all.

“All absentee ballots were sent to addresses provided by the student on the absentee ballot request,” she wrote.

Only 6,130 students voted in the Fall 2020 SG election for 50 UF Senate seats, a decrease of 3,000 from Fall 2019's election.

Ethan Lomio, Union Party’s District E candidate, said he received his mail-in ballot late in the afternoon Oct. 2, the day it was due to be sent back to UF. 

When Lomio emailed Price about his late ballot, she responded saying Oct. 2 was “simply a suggested date.”

The Alligator confirmed the email was sent by Price and stated that the deadline was a suggestion.

Price did not respond to questions about if any absentee ballots were accepted after the deadline. 

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Jeremy O’Brien Murillo didn’t receive the absentee ballot he requested to keep himself safe from COVID-19.

“Catching COVID from casting my ballot in an SG election is not something that is high on my list of priorities,” he said.

The 23-year-old UF political science senior waited for a month to receive his ballot at his address in District D. 

The day before the elections, he still had not received a ballot and realized he would not be able to send his vote in. Although he wanted to go to the polls in person and vote, exams and essays kept him from driving to the polls.

“I don’t regularly go to campus because all my classes are online, that’s what the absentee ballot was for,” he said.

For the 12 Senate seats up for election in District D, 10 candidates lost by less than 15 votes and one candidate lost by just one vote. District D’s election was automatically recounted because of the close votes.

“I did everything I was supposed to do, but the Supervisor of Elections didn’t give me my right to vote,” O’Brien Murillo said. 

He wants Price to apologize for the miscount and resign if more students come forward with absentee ballot issues.

O’Brien Murillo wasn’t the only student to not receive an absentee ballot though.

Braden Reis, the Union Party president and Broward-Rawling Area candidate, requested his ballot Sept. 16 to be able to vote in SG elections despite living 300 miles away from Gainesville in Pembroke Pines.

“I did it well in advance,” he said. “But to this day, I still have not received my absentee ballot. I was unable to vote for a party that I have been working on for months.”

Reis emailed Price Oct. 5, the day before elections began, to request voting accommodations. 

Price responded to him Oct. 6, the first day of elections, denying his request for accommodations. She wrote the accommodations were “only being offered to students who were given the ‘withheld from campus’ status by the University.”

Students are withheld from campus by UF after testing positive for COVID-19. Their status appears on their One.UF account.

None of the advertisements or details of this plan included this qualification. Price did not respond to questions about if this qualification existed.

“This just shows how much voter suppression is going on in SG,” Reis said. “Students are all over the country really, and they can't have a say in how their student fees are spent.”

Reis believes UF is complacent in this voter suppression.

Provost Joe Glover rejected an online voting option for SG elections Sept. 21, and the UF Supreme Court did Sept. 11.  

“You’d think, since they're so focused on improving our ranking they would have protected a value as universal as democracy but they're not,” Reis said.

Some students received their absentee ballots in time.

Bruce Glasserman, Change Party’s District E candidate, received his ballot Sept. 30 and sent it back the next day. The 20-year-old UF political science and history junior used the absentee ballot process for the first time in SG elections from his parents’ house in Pembroke Pines.

“It’s the only way I could realistically vote in the election,” he said. “It isn’t feasible for me to go up to Gainesville just to cast my vote and go home.”

Not all students who received their absentee ballots had as much time, though.

Victoria Zamitalo, the District C candidate for Union Party, tested positive for COVID-19 Sept. 22, daysafter requesting her absentee ballot.

The 19-year-old business administration sophomore spent days in bed with fatigue and sore throat and lungs. She requested a ballot because she wasn’t comfortable going to campus.

She waited for a month to receive her absentee ballot at her Gainesville address only for it to be sent to her parents in the Tampa Bay area, which Zamitalo said was not listed as her address with UF, the week the ballot should have been sent back to UF. 

Zamitalo’s new absentee ballot arrived at her Gainesville address Oct. 2, the deadline for sending it back to be counted. 

“Had I not checked my mailbox on that specific day, my vote would not have been counted,” she said.

Zamitalo still doesn’t know if her vote was counted in the SG elections.

“It was weird seeing my name in the ballot, but being like ‘I can't place that vote,’” she said.

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Lianna Hubbard

Lianna Hubbard is a reporter for The Alligator’s Investigative Team. The UF women’s study major began as a freelance reporter three years ago. She founded her community college’s award-winning newspaper before beginning at The Independent Florida Alligator. See an issue in your community or a story at UF? Send tips to her Twitter.

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