Despite the looming threat of a hurricane, polls for Student Government elections opened Tuesday morning for students to vote in their next round of area senators.
While some students voted to “get the sticker” — to fulfill a student organization or Greek voting requirement — others came with specific issues and priorities they hope new senators will address. Gator, Change and Liberation parties have slated candidates in the Fall election. Two independent candidates, Nathaniel Pelton and Jayden Adjodha, are running as well.
After the first day of voting, Supervisor of Elections Ethan Halle reported 6,844 votes cast. There were 8,299 ballots cast between both days of voting in Fall 2021.
Due to school closures in response to Hurricane Ian, the second day of elections was moved from Sept. 28 to Monday, Oct. 3. Voting times and locations will remain the same, from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. at any polling location.
Brooke Benedict, an 18-year-old business administration freshman, said voting Tuesday would be the last thing she did before returning to her parents’ house to weather the storm.
“I've never voted before,” Benedict said. “But I'm excited.”
Robert Rice, a 21-year-old data science sophomore, said one issue that brought him out to vote is his discontent with SG’s allocation of too much money toward Greek life. This led him to cast his vote for Change senators.
Student organization funding was another one of Rice’s concerns, as well as several other voters Tuesday. A revision to SG legislation aligning it with university policy would reclassify several student organizations so they can no longer receive funding from SG. Club leaders and members have expressed concern over the perceived pulling of funds.
As a member of a data science club, Rice prefers more money be allocated towards design teams and other STEM organizations. He’d also like to see libraries open for longer hours, he said, as well as more financial support toward the Regional Transit System bus network.
Some students expressed similar sentiments. Nichapa Dancharnjitt, a 20-year-old UF microbiology sophomore, said she voted for Change because its platform better aligns with her values as a student.
“Gator Party is not allocating money to student organizations fairly,” she said. “It’s affecting fundamental organizations that give vital opportunities to students on campus.”
Minority organizations are heavily affected with budget allocations, Dancharnjitt said, and that’s why she thinks it’s important for students to vote.
Rice and Navapan Khunnasarn, a 21-year-old aerospace engineering junior, both said they wish there were an at-home voting option to make voting more widely accessible. They waited about 20 minutes in line at the polling place in the Reitz — an activity that took away from hurricane prep.
“This is not supporting democracy,” Khunnasarn said. “This is abrupting democracy.”
Uzair Alvi, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering junior, said he went to the polls to vote for Change. He said he believes their policies are student-focused and wanted to ensure funds will be allocated to a variety of student organizations — particularly for Islam on Campus, an organization where he said he was able to find a community.
“For any new freshmen coming in, these organizations need to be emphasized so they feel at home and well-connected to a network,” Alvi said.
Justin Brock, a 21-year-old environmental science junior, voted for the first time in an SG election Tuesday. He was inspired to come to the polls, he said, because he disapproved of SG using $60,000 in funds to bring Josh Richards to an Accent Speakers event.
“I felt a need to vote more so than I did in the past two years,” Brock said. “I’ll probably continue voting from now on. I'm kind of seeing more of a direct impact.”
Voting stretched across campus Tuesday, and it wasn’t just undergraduate students who felt compelled to cast their ballots.
Patrick Healy, a 24-year-old UF law student, went to the Levin College of Law to vote. He was involved in SG during his undergraduate studies at the University of North Florida, he said, which made him aware of the power student senators have in influencing policy on campus.
Healy voted for Gator, he said, after deciding its platform was more realistic compared to Change and Liberation.
“They seemed to know what they’re doing,” he said. “I wanted to stick with them.”
UF law school students pay more attention to the Student Bar Association on campus as a student governing body, he said. But because SG controls over $23 million that can affect services near the law school, he said it’s still pertinent for law students to pay attention.
“I think that we like to think we’re an island over here,” he said. “But I think it’s important to us regardless of undergrad or graduate.”
The law school also saw an influx of student voters from across campus after supervisors directed people waiting in long lines at the Reitz Union to smaller polling stations. It had nearly 300 student votes as of 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Mateo Melton, an 18-year-old business pre-law freshman, voted in the Springs Library for Gator candidate Natalie Landman because of her commitment to making tailgates more inclusive, he said. As a first-year student, he said he looked at each party’s platform before casting his vote.
“I think it’s really important because everybody gets a vote,” Melton said. “I feel like everyone should be represented. If you’re not voting, then you’re not going to have representation in a lot of the ideas and policies that shape where we go to school.”
Jake Debien, an 18-year-old applied physiology and kinesiology freshman, also voted for Gator at Springs Library to support friends running.
“I saw a lot of people promoting it and talking about it,” Debien said. “I figured I might as well give it a shot.”
What’s most important, though, is that people make time to vote, said Chaquayla Katam, a 21-year-old behavioral and cognitive neuroscience senior.
Katam said she voted for Change at Southwest Recreation Center with a 24-hour library in mind. As a fourth-year student, Katam said she has voted for SG representatives every year, except for when she was online during the pandemic.
“You might as well [vote] because you’re on campus,” Katam said. “You’re paying to be here. You’re involved as much as you want to be involved.”
Alissa Gary, Siena Duncan, Ashleigh Lucas, Naomi Volcy, Aidan Bush and Sophia Bailly contributed to this report.