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Friday, July 01, 2022

City Commission silences students

UF students make Gainesville the vibrant, progressive city it is. They support local small businesses, ride city-managed public transportation and work in our community.

But students also make up a substantial voting bloc that is made to feel its voices don’t matter. A big part of this issue is our city leaders suppressing the student vote. 

Despite UF students comprising nearly a third of Gainesville’s population, there was no early voting location on campus during the most recent city election. 

Students used to have access to early voting at the J. Wayne Reitz Union — but even that was a hard-fought victory. 

For years, students begged their state-level officials to change the rules so they would have more convenient access to the ballot box in their community. It took a protracted 2018 legal battle — led by UF students in partnership with the Andrew Goodman Foundation — for an early voting location to come to UF and college campuses across the state. 

That year, nearly 8,000 people — primarily students — voted early at the Reitz Union.

This time around, our city leaders suppressed these votes by failing to instruct the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections to provide this critical voting option for students.

Eighty-four percent of UF students live off-campus. That means the average student had to balance classes, extracurriculars and other obligations with finding a polling location at a random hotel or church miles from where they spend most of their day. This wouldn’t have been the case if your city government had followed years of precedent and provided early voting at the Reitz. 

This voter suppression is only a symptom of a larger problem: our city leaders have routinely swept the concerns of students aside. For them, ignoring your voice is more convenient than making genuine attempts to listen to you.

The last time your City Commission met with their counterparts in UF Student Government was on April 2019. Not a single person who was a student senator at that time remains in the chamber now. How can your city leaders claim to represent you when they won’t even speak with your democratically-elected student leaders?

At a recent meeting, the City Commission took steps to eliminate the Student Community Relations Advisory Board, with zero concrete ideas as to how exactly they plan on having “discussions with student neighbors on city issues.” I don’t know about you, but I’d imagine they could start by listening to student perspectives instead of purposefully excluding them from government discussions. 

This August, four out of seven city government seats are up for grabs — including the mayor’s seat. Students have the opportunity to elect leaders who truly represent them.

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Voting for city commissioners who actually care about the student community would be a great start.

 

Claudia Tio-Cartagena is a member of the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee, a former UF Student Government Senator and a proud resident of Gainesville.

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