The Black Voters Matter organization held a special event to encourage city community members’ participation in the Gainesville City Commission special election.
About 50 people attended the “Souls to the Polls” event Sunday next to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office on Main Street. The event targeted Black voters in Gainesville and featured many performances, including gospel singer Keyla Richardson as well as speeches from candidates, city commissioners and other community leaders.
State organizing manager Jamil Davis said Black Voters Matter organized the event to gather voters from marginalized communities and push them to engage through voter education and empowerment.
“This election is a great start to getting back the power black voters deserve in Gainesville,” Davis said. “We can actually put someone that will fight for the rights of the people here in Gainesville.”
BVM volunteer Tango Jordan believes Florida is one of the toughest states to get around voter suppression.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 90 in May — introducing new restrictions to the mail-in voting process and limiting acceptances of vote-by-mail ballots. DeSantis also signed HB 1 in April to combat public disorder. It redefines what a riot is and places harsher penalties on rioting.
Jordan believes organizations like BVM are especially important amid new voting restrictions.
“With SB 90 and even as far as HB 1, it’s like there’s an intentional effort to impede Black voters to make it as difficult and as frustrating as possible,” Jordan said.
Partner organizations such as the Alachua County NAACP conducted voter registrations and assisted people with finding polling locations Sunday.
Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton also spoke at the event. Barton gave the attendees information about early voting locations, items to bring to the polls on election day and poll closing times.
“Whatever you do, make sure you vote,” Barton said. “Your vote is the only voice that you will have in this election. Cast your vote.”
Several city commissioners, like commissioner David Arreola, were present to urge people to cast their votes in the election.
“Now is the time for us to remember our power,” Arreola said. “Remember that our vote matters and remember that the time to love your city most is not when things are going great; it’s when things are going hard.”
Commissioner Harvey Ward also took the stage to remind the community to seek the commission’s help even after the elections.
“After you elect us, don’t forget that we still work for you,” Ward said. “Make sure we are delivering for you and responding to your needs.”
Gainesville resident Pamela Garcia spoke of the underrepresentation of her residential area in East Gainesville. She mentions that East Gainesville is often neglected by the commission and how it’s important for voters to choose a commissioner that can change it for the better.
“We have a gap in Gainesville and we need to close that gap,” Garcia said. “This is one city. It’s not two. But you would think that it is because it’s so divided.”
The event featured candidates running for Gainesville City Commission At-Large Seat B. The special election for the seat is being held after former city commissioner Gail Johnson resigned in August.
Gainesville resident Michael Stephens, 59, attended the event after seeing a television ad. Stephens said it was a good chance for him to hear the candidates speak about their platforms before he cast his vote and bond with his community.
“They’re putting the word out for how important it is, especially for people of color, to get out to vote,” Stephens said. “Because we always have something to say but we never put our vote in.”
Alachua City resident Willett Dixon, 59, said she heard about the event through television advertisements. She mentioned her enthusiasm to come help support the cause.
“Our forefathers and fathers paved the way for us to come take advantage,” Dixon said. “Every vote matters. So, take advantage of this.”
Erina Anwar is a contributing writer for The Alligator.
Erina is a second-year journalism student and reports on East Gainesville for The Alligator. Originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Erina grew up in Fort Lauderdale and is excited to discover new stories in Gainesville. When she’s not writing, she enjoys exploring local restaurants and watching Korean dramas.