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Monday, September 20, 2021
A picture of people watching election results at Bo Diddley Plaza

Justin McKenzie (left) and Dee Natour (right) sit in Bo Diddley Plaza during the election results watch party hosted by the Dream Defenders on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

Students anxiously flipped between election coverage and a distraction of their choosing while polling locations across the country counted votes during election night.

Without cable in the dorms, students streamed election results on YouTube and watched live online election counters. They split screens between movies and election results, played ping pong away from the streams, drank, took dinner breaks and played card games in between states being called red or blue.

The national election Tuesday night included the presidential race between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, alongside 27 House of Representative seats.

About 10 freshmen watched live election updates in Yulee Hall’s recreational room on The New York Times live election counter. On the split projection screen, one side streamed the rom-com classic “Clueless” and the other showed the updating New York Times election counter.

Between scenes of Cher Horowitz choosing outfits and falling in love with her ex-stepbrother, the students interjected the close percentages between the candidates and new counts for Florida.

Trump and Biden voters played ping pong and crowded around the projector late into the night.

Leah Goldberg, an 18-year-old UF health sciences freshman, watched the movie and the election results with her three friends.

“It's the first time we have actually participated in our democracy,” she said. “It's interesting being a part of history.”

Goldberg voted for the first time with a mail-in ballot. She didn’t want to disclose who she voted for, but she did say the election was surprisingly close.

“On social media, a lot of people seem pro-Biden,” she said. “But looking at the results, it's a lot more divided.”

Four freshmen who watched “Clueless” said they were uneasy and anxious about the close callings for the election. They said they planned to stay up until midnight to watch the results, but don’t think all votes will be counted by then.

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Some of the students grouped around the ping pong tables instead and played R&B music over CNN election coverage.

Lexi Viti, an 18-year-old UF environmental science freshman, played ping pong in the recreational room while the election was being called. She said she’d spent the day preparing herself for the worst. 

“I think tonight is going to be pretty red,” she said. “But after the mail-in voting, it will go to Biden.”

Viti voted for Biden with a mail-in ballot at her grandparents house for her first election.

“It feels good participating in the growing and weird world of American politics,” she said. “I didn’t think 2020 would be this hectic.”

Viti said she supported Biden in order to protect her rights as a woman and LGBTQ+ person.

“The way that Trump talks, you just know he’s not interested in protecting any minority,” she said. 

Viti spent the day talking with her friends from her home in Rhode Island and preparing for protest if Trump won.

“My friends will watch until the news stops reporting on it,” she said.

Other students at the Yulee watch party were less invested.

Branden Adams, an 18-year-old UF statistics freshman, played ping pong while the other students crowded around the projector.

“We’ve been watching the elections, none of us are too invested in who wins,” he said. “It's really entertainment value.”

Adams said the intense reactions from invested voters were entertaining. He voted for Biden that morning.

“I’m usually Republican, but I’m not a Trump fan,” he said. “He’s very egocentric.” 

Eight students streamed the results on the ABC YouTube channel in the Mallory Library. They popped popcorn and broke open boxes of dining hall food. During the commercial breaks, they chatted about politics and split open computers to do school work.

Screen capture of a virtual watch party

Friends Faizan, Micaela, Cesar, Brandon, Alex and Hunter watch the live election coverage together over Discord Tuesday night.

Julia Braver, an 18-year-old political science freshman, joined the watch party after she finished her 4-10:30 p.m. shift at Fresh Food Dining Company.

“I haven't been able to watch updates because I was at work,” she said. “I have classes tomorrow, I have work tomorrow, but I cant pull my eyes away. Casually watching our democracy slip away, pushing back my bedtime.”

Braver voted in her first election for Biden three weeks ago with a mail-in ballot. She thinks that tonight, the complete and official votes will not be tallied because of the large amount of mail in ballots used.

“It's hard to understand in your head that it's not going to be decided tonight,” she said. “I’m here watching, they’re calling state and it feels like it’s a big deal tonight.”

She worries that tonight could still have terrible consequences.

“I think if Biden was projected to win, Trump supporters would be violent,” she said. “This is one of the most polarized times in America. Trump supporters are armed. If you have a gun, you’re going to use it.”

She said that if Trump wins the votes tonight, she will still hold out hope for a Biden presidency.

“They're are going to be so many court cases after tonight about which votes even count,” she said.

Braver voted for Biden to protect environmental, aborition and voting rights among other issues.

“I would have rather voted for sanders, but I didn't want to vote independent and throw my vote away,” she said. “It's mostly because I want Trump out.”

Micaela Brena, a 19-year-old UF public health sophomore, hosted a virtual election watch party with friends off-campus at Woodbury Row over Discord, a voice and video chat room.

She is a registered Democrat who voted for Biden and Harris. The chatroom was made up of 20 of Brena’s friends who attend UF, FSU and University of Miami. 

They popped in and out of the chat throughout the night, sometimes taking a break from the nail biting election coverage to play video games.

Brena voted by mail to avoid exposing herself and the three high-risk family members to COVID-19. At the start of the pandemic, Brena’s uncle was hospitalized with the virus. He recovered and donated blood to help develop knowledge of COVID-19 antibodies.

Other than COVID-19 concerns, Brena said her vote was shaped by health care, abortion, LBGTQ+ rights and immigration issues.

“It's disheartening also seeing how President Trump speaks in regards to Latino, and other marginalized communities,” Brena said.

She was born in Peru before moving to the U.S. at the age of 3. She said she has seen first-hand how much more difficult it is for immigrants to get a visa to the U.S.

“I obviously don't want another four years of living in fear of what rights I may or may not have,” she said.

A picture of Kiara Laurent speaking at Bo Diddley Plaza

Kiara Laurent speaks to the crowd at the election results watch party hosted by the Dream Defenders at Bo Diddley Plaza on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. A large screen on the stage showed results from MSNBC Live.

Dream Defenders watch party

The “Count Every Vote” election event was held Tuesday evening at Bo Diddley Plaza. 

Gainesville Dream Defenders organized the event along with four progressive groups in the city. Proceedings began around 7 p.m. and a number of performers, speakers and poets took the stage. 

Attendees danced, laughed and ate amidst lively performances. Bo Diddley Plaza was jubilant ahead of what many have called the most important election in American history

Election coverage was a sideshow at the “Count the Vote” event, as organizers encouraged attendees to come together as a community and interact with the various advocacy groups present at the watch party. 

Blazel, a 31-year-old performer from central Florida, echoed these sentiments on the importance of community. 

“Everyone can do their part of me doing this is me doing mine,” said Blazel.

Participants stressed that no matter who wins the election, there is a lot to be done towards realizing progressive goals and policies. 

Kiara Laurent, a 21-year-old UF criminology and sociology senior, was one of the main organizers of Tuesday evening’s event. She stressed that her advocacy with the Dream Defenders will continue under either administration. 

“No matter who’s elected, now we're gonna continue doing whatever we need to do to stay afloat, said Laurent. “We're gonna be prepared to keep raising capital to liberate our people.

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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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