Thousands of UF students lined up across on-campus polling locations Tuesday for the first day of the Spring Student Government elections.
Some locations, like the Reitz Union at 3:30 p.m., were swarmed with eager voters trying to cast their ballots. Most others saw a smaller trickle of voters throughout the day.
But the numbers speak for themselves: After polls closed Tuesday, Supervisor of Elections Ethan Halle reported 7,619 votes cast — nearly 2,000 more than last Spring's first-day results of 5,448.
Students will have another chance to vote for 50 senators representing academic colleges as well as student body president, vice president and treasurer from either the Gator or Change Party slates Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Students expressed either voting to make their voices heard on student-related policy issues or succumbing to the wishes of their Greek life chapter and peers.
Mallory Bachmann, a 19-year-old UF public relations sophomore and Gator voter, cast her vote at Norman Hall. She attended the SG debate Feb. 21 to learn more about the different parties' platforms and is most concerned with the allocation of funds, she said.
“It's really important to make our voices heard,” Bachmann said.
Bachmann also expressed excitement toward voting for Gator’s presidential candidate Olivia Green, who previously served as the president of her sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi.
“She was really good at speaking for everyone and making sure that it wasn't just her opinion that influenced her decisions,” Bachmann said.
Tara Steinberg, a 20-year-old UF sports management sophomore and Gator voter, voted at Norman Hall. She was encouraged to vote for the Gator Party by the members of her sorority, Delta Zeta, she said.
Steinberg will receive four points, a metric for tracking member engagement within her Greek life chapter, for participating in the election, she said.
“Everyone in my sorority is always like, ‘[Gator Party] is the one you should vote for,’” Steinberg said. “I don't really know much about it, to be honest.”
Other voters considered themselves to be more well-informed.
Ashley Eachus, a 21-year-old UF environmental science senior and Change voter, said her friends in SG highly encouraged her to vote in the election, and she believes Change deserves to gain more representation.
Eachus felt Change candidates better represent the values of diverse students, she said.
“I’m mostly just passionate that Change Party wins and Gator Party loses,” Eachus said.
Ben Hart, 18-year-old UF finance freshman, said he voted for the Gator Party because of its efforts to create a more inclusive student body.
“I just wanted to be involved and cast my vote — make a difference,” he said.
Emma Wegener, an 18-year-old UF agriculture freshman, said she voted for Change due to some members’ emphasis on mental health funding.
“The [Counseling and Wellness Center] was such a huge influence on my freshman year and helping out on the transition from high school to college,” she said.
She mentioned Chalisa Budhai, a 19-year-old political science and African American studies freshman running for a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Senate seat with the Change Party, who’s platform really helped her understand SG issues and appreciated Budhai’s intention to address DeSantis’ reversal of diversity education funding, Wegener said.
Kate Kaplan, an 18-year-old UF health science freshman, voted for Gator at Broward Hall because she agrees with its support of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and the LGBTQ community, she said.
“I think it’s important to be active in the community and have a say in who you think should be representing it,” she said.
Fund management was a hot-button issue for some students.
Taylor Gerke, a 22-year-old UF electrical engineering senior, voted for Change in the Reitz Union after his fellow members of the Solar Gators design team told him Change better represents the team’s interests, he said.
He also attended a Fall 2022 Student Senate meeting to filibuster the passing of a student organization budget reform that would revoke funding from design teams, he said.
“Considering the whole fiasco last semester, I had to really make sure — even though I've got a lot to do right now — to get out here because it's for the benefit of my design team,” he said.
Chris Hackbardt, a 22-year-old UF aerospace engineering senior, voted for Change in the Reitz Union as well. He has seen issues with Gator in his four years on campus, he said, including what he called misallocation of funds.
Hackbardt was also worried about funding for his engineering design team, “Design, Build, Fly,” he said.
As the group is currently funded by the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, the stripping of SG funds from other groups would only push them to share the limited funds in the department, he said.
“Some of the changes that Gator Party was trying to make would affect other design teams, which may make them take funds from MAE, causing us to have less funds from the MAE pool,” he said. “That's what we were scared of.”
The Gator and Change Party will gather for watch parties at the Reitz Union Wednesday at around 9:00 p.m. to find out the election results.
Amanda Friedman, Aidan Bush, Peyton Harris and Alissa Gary contributed to this report.