voter registration

Last Fall, UF students could hardly step onto Turlington Plaza without being asked if they had registered to vote.

But now, Trey Hemond, the public relations coordinator for the UF College Democrats, won’t be walking up to people with a clipboard as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in the U.S. 

As social distancing has continued to alter the way we live since March, student political organizations have needed to find new ways to register voters. Organizations registering voters in Gainesville and Alachua County have shifted their focus to virtual voter registration and getting voters registered for mail ballots.

In Fall 2019, the UF College Democrats registered 427 voters in Alachua County. Hemond said they do not expect to approach that number this year. The organization is taking further action to account for the expected loss in registration numbers.

“It’s also important to make sure voters are actually either going to the polls or preferably signing up for a mail-in ballot,” the 21-year-old UF political science senior said.

The UF College Democrats began a three-pronged plan using social media, phone banking and text banking to counterbalance the expected fall in registration numbers. Phone banking involves pulling phone records from voter rolls and using the information to target specific groups of voters, Hemond said. 

After pulling contact information, the organization calls and texts people to ask if they are registered to vote and if they are signed up for a mail-in ballot.

The UF College Democrats also started a social media campaign to register voters through TurboVote, a streamlined voter registration website, for the Aug. 18 primary election. The social media campaign will continue throughout the Fall before the general election in November, Hemond said.

Emily Miller, a 20-year-old biological engineering junior at UF, sought help from the UF College Democrats to update her voter registration from her hometown in Manatee County, about 175 miles from Gainesville, to Alachua County. The organization helped her get registered through TurboVote.

“I was very surprised by how quick the whole process was and how simple it was,” Miller said.

Miller said she might have figured out how to do it herself, but the website and the UF College Democrats made the process much easier. She also plans on seeking the organization’s help in registering for a mail ballot to vote in November’s election.

Not every political student organization is shifting its focus online. On Tuesday, Turning Point USA at UF tabled on the Plaza of the Americas giving out waters, sodas, cupcakes and various items with the phrase “Socialism Sucks” on them. The organization plans to host various in-person events leading up to the election with masks and social distancing, said Carter Mermer, the organization’s president.

“We're just going to focus on winning the ideological war,” said Mermer, a 21-year-old UF business administration senior. 

Mermer said Turning Point USA at UF plans to register voters, but cannot until he does more research on how to do it right. Because of the organization’s classification as a nonprofit, it can only register voters in a non-partisan way.

State-wide political organizations outside of UF also play a role in voter registration in Alachua County. NextGen Florida, a chapter of the national organization NextGen America, tabled on campus at UF in 2018 and 2019. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the organization has UF student-organizers working to register young people through the organization’s registration website.

Abel Iraola, the 28-year-old press secretary for NextGen Florida, said the organization is having organizers speak to UF classes over Zoom before and after class. This strategy is similar to what many organizations used to do when in-person classes took place last year.

The organization shifted to a completely digital platform to register voters and sign them up to vote by mail, he said. The focus is now on getting young people registered to vote, signing them up for mail ballots, and encouraging them to turn in mail ballots early.

“The election is not really Nov. 3,” Iraola said. “It starts on Sept. 24, because that is when people are going to have their ballots. So this is the big push to get young people educated.”

Alachua County voters can request a mail-in ballot from the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections website, in person at 515 N Main St. in Gainesville, or by calling (352) 374-5252.

Voters can update their registration or register to vote in Alachua County at the Florida Online Voter Registration website, in person at 515 N Main St. in Gainesville, or by mailing the form from the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections website to 515 N Main St. in Gainesville.

Contact Steven at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @swalker_7.

Staff Writer

Steven Walker is the 2020 national election reporter for The Alligator. He is a junior journalism major at UF, and in his first semester with The Alligator.