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Student Body Treasurer-elect Saketh Damera reacts to a Vision Party victory in the Spring 2024 UF Student Government election at the Reitz Union on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.
Student Body Treasurer-elect Saketh Damera reacts to a Vision Party victory in the Spring 2024 UF Student Government election at the Reitz Union on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.

UF students from both Student Government parties filled the Reitz Union with chants such as “Forward together, change forever” and “I said it’s great, to be, a Visionary,” while anxiously waiting for election results.

As Supervisor of Elections Ethan Halle stood on the stairs above the Reitz atrium, the ground floor came to a hush as students set down their Sprite cups and lowered their cardboard cutouts of candidates’ heads. The results were in.

Vision Party swept the executive ticket of the Spring 2024 SG election, electing John Brinkman as student body president. Laura Thomas and Saketh Damera, both from Vision, will serve as vice president and treasurer.

Fellow party members hugged and applauded Student Body President-elect John Brinkman after his name was announced. 

“I'm just so happy that the student body put its faith in Vision Party,” he said. “I can’t wait to get to work.”

Student Body Vice President-elect Laura Thomas said she’d dreamed of the moment when she’d win, wiping the tears from her eyes. 

“The university chose me to serve them, and I will do that selflessly with every piece of my body,” she said.

Student Body Treasurer-elect Saketh Damera said he never could’ve predicted the results but was confident going into elections.

“The energy in this room is electric,” he said. 

Vision won 29 Student Senate seats, while Change won 21. With this election, Vision gained a Senate supermajority, holding 69 seats to Change’s 29. 

All three of the constitutional amendments — the Proposal to Eliminate the Defunct Honor Court, the Ratification Amendment to the Student Body Constitution and the Website Publication Constitutional Amendment — failed to pass. 

Over the two days, 10,304 students voted, Supervisor of Elections Ethan Halle said, about 2,000 fewer than last year’s total of 12,472. Tuesday alone brought out more than 6,000 voters.

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Ella Furman, who won the education seat for Vision, said she felt relieved.

“I’m so sleep deprived, but I’m ready to go to work tomorrow,” she said. 

While Vision party members cleared the Reitz in about 20 minutes after the results were announced, Change gathered for an hour outside the building to revive each other’s spirits. Some crying, some holding hands, they all gathered in a circle while party leaders stepped up one by one to give impromptu speeches of encouragement.

Simone Liang, Change’s candidate for Student Body President, lost the election. But to her, being a “Changemaker” means “going in knowing that you’re against the system… it’s David fighting Goliath.”

“We have already made history last year when we won a majority as an independent party,” Liang called to shouts of agreement from her gathered party members. “And we're still making history by constantly running.” 

She believes there’s always more work to be done and aims to make sure Change continues holding Vision accountable, she said. 

“I’ve not slept more than like three hours in a week,” Liang added. “So I’ll probably be doing that.”

Antonio Hendricks, Change’s candidate for Student Body Vice President, said his party’s sincerity is something he’s never seen in any other campaign.

“I’m proud of Change Party for reaching students in such a way that they recognize that the Change Party is their true representation of their needs, of how they're feeling,” he said.

Connor Panish, Change president, gave the first and last speeches of the motivation huddle. This semester’s close margins make him hopeful for future victories, he said.

“That’s why I’ve been around so long, because we take our losses, we swallow them and we keep coming back,” he said. “You all will have my respect for the rest of my life.”

Anghelo Gangano, Change’s losing treasurer candidate, said his favorite part of the experience was standing with his fellow party members after their losses, despite the bittersweet ending to his campaign. The chemistry doctorate student doesn’t plan to go into politics after leaving UF, but the “blood, sweat and tears” he put into Change will stay with him forever, he said.

“Having everyone in one place that you’ve been fighting alongside for weeks, if not months, is really nice,” he said. “These are incredibly strong people. And being able to witness that is awesome.”

Gangano planned to spend the rest of his night catching up on much-needed sleep before returning to campus tomorrow to teach his organic chemistry class, he said. Although he thinks some of his undergraduate students probably showed up to vote for him, he confirmed he did not collect voting stickers from any of them, he said.

Allison Cama, a 22-year-old UF microbiology senior, has voted for Change ever since managing diversity, equity and inclusion for her sorority taught her about its platform, she said. She doesn’t understand why Vision came about as a “rebrand” of Gator Party, but she tries to track party switches and vote accordingly. Her sorority, Phi Mu, encouraged her to vote, she said.

“We don’t get a point or anything, but I do know a lot of chapters get points,” she said.

Chase Horton, a 20-year-old UF accounting sophomore, voted for every Vision candidate on his ballot at Heavener Hall. No specific policies on its platform stuck out to him, but he wanted to support Vision nonetheless. 

“I like what the platform stands for,” Horton said. “I’ve seen no problems, so there’s no reason to change it.” 

Serena Sander, a 19-year-old UF chemistry and religion freshman, opted to split her ballot between Change and Vision candidates, voting for the Change president and secretary but mixing the rest of her votes between the two parties.

“There were specific people in Vision I talked to, specific candidates that I agree with what they want to do,” she said. “And specific candidates in Change that I agree with what they want to do.”

Zoey Thomas, Annie Wang, Delia Rose Sauer, Sara-James Ranta and Alissa Gary contributed to this report.

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