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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Residents rally at Soul to the Polls on final day of early voting

More than a thousand voters cast ballots Sunday

<p>Voters listen to local candidates speak at the Souls to the Polls event held outside of the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022.</p>

Voters listen to local candidates speak at the Souls to the Polls event held outside of the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022.

Leona Williams drove a friend to vote at the Supervisor of Elections office following their Sunday church service. She was greeted by a gospel performance.

Williams, along with hundreds of residents gathered outside of the elections office, located at 515 N. Main St., to enjoy a performance led by members of the Georgia Mass Choir for Sunday’s "Souls to the Polls" event. The event was aimed around mobilizing voters.

The event, which originated during the civil rights movements in an attempt to mobilize churchgoers to vote after church, included free food, giveaways, entertainment and church involvement. Attendees also heard from elected officials and candidates.

People trust their pastors who play a pivotal role in their lives, the Rev. Karl Anderson said.

“We have to make an intentional gateway for our people — our Black and Brown citizens who have been oppressed in the past — to let them know that they have every right to vote, just like everyone else,” he said.

With a recent string of efforts to disenfranchise minority voters like Senate Bill 90, Anderson said, holding voting events is more important than ever.

Florida Republicans voted to remove the 24/7 ballot dropboxes that were first installed to accommodate voters during the 2020 election. Now, voters wishing to drop off ballots are confined to polling hours, disproportionately impacting minorities whose reliance on vote-by-mail exceed that of white voters.

Heather Mann, who has been involved with Souls to the Polls for years and helped people with voter registration and casting their ballot, said voting collectively encourages voters through fellowship.

“Your voice doesn’t count unless you vote,” she said.

The 45-year-old Gainesville resident works as a servant leader at Dayspring Missionary Baptist Church. Her church had just won $500 in a friendly competition among community organizations and churches for bringing the most people out to vote.

“Having events like this bring people together,” she said. “Whether the music is what brings them here or the food brings them here, the point of getting them here and getting them to be registered to vote means a lot to us.”

Candidates on the ballot for local races — including Harvey Ward, Ed Bielarski, Danielle Hawk, Marihelen Wheeler and Raemi Eagle-Glenn — also attended the event and spoke to voters.

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The event, Mann said, gave voters the opportunity to listen to candidates and learn about the issues on the ballot.

Some voters referenced the single-member district referendum as one of the key issues on the ballot, which would change the way voters elect their county commissioners. 

If passed, voters would elect only one commissioner based on their district instead of the current method where voters can elect commissioners at-large without residing in that district.

Danny Hodges, a 24-year-old artist, was invited to perform music at the event. He also worked alongside a team at Upper Room Ministries team to help organize the event.

“A lot of people don't self-educate,” he said. “Coming out to this, it makes you involved in it in not such a textbook way.”

Aaron Klein, the county elections office’s spokesperson, said the elections office made early voting solely at the Supervisor of Elections Office on Sunday to offer additional availability.

In previous elections, the elections office cut off the early voting period on Saturday before Election Day, he said, mainly to ensure staff had time to transfer from early voting to Election Day operations.

“We're very happy that they [Souls to the Polls] are interested in bringing voters to the polls that are utilizing this additional day of early voting,” he said. “We all get excited to see the energy of folks coming in and voting.”

Early voting period saw 27,789 ballots cast, according to county turnout data. Voters who decide to cast their ballot on election day must vote at their designated precinct from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Contact Mickenzie Hannon at Follow her on Twitter @MickenzieHannon.

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Mickenzie Hannon

Mickenzie is the local elections reporter and previously covered city and county commission for The Alligator’s Metro Desk. She's a fourth-year journalism major and is specializing in data journalism. When Mickenzie isn’t writing, she enjoys watching horror movies, reading, playing with her pets and attending concerts.

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