UF students have spent hours phone banking, community organizing and speech writing this election to get their fellow students to the polls in the weeks leading up to election day Tuesday.
While the Reitz Union opened for early voting and mail-in ballots were sent to dorms, UF students participated in presidential rallies, campaigned for their candidates and encouraged other students to vote.
UF’s Student Body Vice President Lauredan Official introduced Obama at an Orlando Oct. 27 car rally for Democratic candidate Joe Biden. The 21-year-old UF advertising senior represented Parramore Kidz Zone, an Orlando organization connecting children from one of Orlando's poorest neighborhoods to education and professional development resources.
Official also spoke at an event for former Florida Senator Bill Nelson and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker Saturday Oct. 31.
Joe Biden’s presidential campaign called Official Oct. 25 while he was still in bed. They asked him to introduce the former president for the campaign event.
Official was silent at first. The campaign worker thought they’d lost connection, he said.
In between doing homework and setting up SG movie nights, Official wrote his five-minute speech and got on calls with an official speech writer from the campaign.
“I just wanted to stay completely authentic,” he said. “I journal every single day. I included those thoughts that I wrote down into the speech.”
Official grew up in the low-income Griffin Park Housing Projects in Parramore. He said his mother made less than $20,000 annually.
“Politics saved me,” he said.
The day before the rally, Official took a two-hour bus ride from Gainesville to Orlando. He slept on his couch in Griffin and walked to the barbershop where he’s gotten his hair cut every year he comes back home.
Official elbow-bumped Obama for a few moments before heading on stage.
“He was just like ‘You ready?’” Official said.
Official lost his glasses before he got on stage and realized he’d left his belt for his mismatched blue suit at home. Still, he took a deep breath, slipped off his Biden mask and began his speech:
“My name is Lauredan Official, but from now on until Nov. 3, my first name is Lauredan ‘Make A Plan To Vote’ Official.”
He lost his place in his speech and was interrupted by car horns, he said. At the end of his five minutes, he put his mask back on and left the podium to Obama.
Official said the entire event felt like a dream.
“Even when you introduce the president of the United States, you’re not going to be perfect,” he said. “Even if you don’t have it together all the way, as long as you’re trying, that’s what counts.”
The road to the 2020 election was filled with phone calls and gathering volunteers for Bianca Onorato De Bidegain, 18-year-old UF criminology and law and political science junior.
Onorato De Bidegain has been working for Biden’s presidential campaign since August. She has called about 300 registered voters per week since then to gauge support for Biden in different areas of Florida, she said.
Her interest in politics started when topics like LGBTQ+ rights and abortion were brought up in her household, De Bidegain said. When she realized how contentious these topics are, she knew her voice could be part of the discussion, she said.
“There's a lot of people with a lot of varying opinions, and for me it's human rights really,” Onorato De Bidegain said. “That's when I was kind of like ‘okay I need to do something.’”
As a college student, voting in her first presidential election, and voting for Biden, is of the utmost importance to Onorato De Bidegain. The winner of this election will decide the circumstances college students will begin their adult lives in, she said. Biden’s plans for affordable college and rebuilding the economy are ideal, she said.
UF students have also gotten involved on the other side of the aisle.
Abigail Streetman spent the morning of Election Day in the Gainseville Trump campaign office. The 20-year-old UF biology sophomore joined the Republican candidate’s campaign two months ago through a connection in UF’s College Republicans club.
She’s been tasked with things like checking in Secret Service agents for campaign rallies, running phone banks and selling Trump merchandise.
Before coming to UF last Fall, Streetman mostly learned about Trump through her political family talking about his businesses and policies in the 2016 elections.
After going to meetings for UF’s College Republicans, College Democrats and Turning Point USA, Streetman saw how partisan American politics can be.
“We need a candidate who is not afraid to say what he's voicing,” she said. “I full on jumped on to the Trump Train like a year ago.”
Streetman got involved with politics to encourage dialogue between both sides. She considers herself a moderate.
She said that most people she’s connected with on the campaign have agreed with her worldview and haven’t held radical views on either side.
“We mostly talk about policies and the things Trump has said on Twitter,” she said.
Back at UF, other students encouraged their fellow students to vote in less partisan ways.
Empowering Latinos to use their right to vote is a major goal for Karolyn Ranero, 20-year-old UF political science junior and director of the UF Hispanic Student Association’s Office of Political Affairs. As a Cuban immigrant herself, she understands a lot of immigrants feel gratitude toward the U.S. but are not comfortable voicing political concerns.
“It's about saying, ‘This is your country too and you can vote and talk about the things that are important to you and that are affecting you,’” Ranero said.
This semester, OPA has done about 10 presentations and 30 social media posts to share relevant information about voter registration and political news, along with providing bilingual resources for students to take to their families, Ranero said.
“I am very hopeful in seeing the rates at which people are turning up to vote,” Ranero said. “I think it's really incredible.”
As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, Alachua County surpassed the 2016 vote total by almost 7,000.
When her grandparents participated in early voting in Miami-Dade County, Ranero and her sister helped translate because there weren’t Spanish-speaking poll workers. She said this is something that HSA is trying to combat, so every voter can have the resources they need to carry out their civic duty.
“We have to come in and fill those gaps in our community,” Ranero said.
Two UF alumni leave precincts 44 and 54 after voting on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.
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.