More than a week before Election Day, four rallies, marches and car parades encouraged Alachua County voters to get to the polls.
Almost 74,500 early voting and mail-in ballots have been cast in the 2020 general election in Alachua County as of Sunday evening.
A “Free The Vote” rally Saturday afternoon gathered hundreds of masked community members on the Bo Diddley Community Plaza with little social distancing to celebrate the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people.
A car rally supporting President Donald Trump paraded across Gainesville Saturday afternoon. No one showed up to an early voting event on Bo Diddley Plaza, called “Walk The Vote,” Saturday morning.
Souls to the Polls events Sunday afternoon had distanced chairs with many wearing masks. People also parked nearby to listen to live music and partake from their cars.
Saturday afternoon: March to polls for formerly incarcerated voters and Trump rally
About 70 organizers, first-time voters and formerly incarcerated people marched to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections office to vote as part of a “Free the Vote” rally Saturday afternoon.
While marchers cast their ballots, a few hundred people rallied on Bo Diddley Plaza for the event, which was set up by the Alachua County chapter of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, an organization of returning citizens with a focus on voting rights activism.
In 2018, Amendment 4 gave nearly 1.4 million formerly incarcerated people in the state the right to vote except those convicted of murder or sexual offences from voting.
After the Amendment passed, the Florida Senate required felons to pay all fines and fees to have their voting right restored, disenfranchising many felons who believed they got their rights back.
The crowd arrived at the doors of the Supervisor of Elections office on North Main Street and shuffled out to the blue X’s taped on the sidewalk six feet apart. While about 15 cast their votes, other marchers waited in the parking lot and cheered for each voter.
“I feel like Beyoncé,” one voter said after leaving the building.
Latamrra Batie, an FRRC assistant, said she has registered 300 formerly incarcerated voters since she began working with the organization in May 2018. This is the first time she will vote after her incarceration in 2007.
“I vote with my heart instead of listening to everybody else because everybody’s got stories,” she said.
A parade of cars waving Trump flags passed by the plaza and slowed to a roll. The groups didn’t engage.
More than 100 Trump supporters gathered in the Oaks Mall parking lot Saturday afternoon to drive around Gainesville in support for their candidate ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election. Vehicles included large trucks, vintage cars, and family-packed minivans, mostly donned with oversized “Trump 2020” or American flags.
Drivers held four fingers out of their vehicles, chanting “Four more years.” One man stood in the bed of a silver pickup truck dressed in an Elvis Presley costume holding a Trump flag.
Participants paraded down Newberry Road, passing UF’s campus. They later passed the March the Vote event and dispersed.
Saturday’s “Walk The Vote” event, scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Bo Diddley Plaza, but by 9:30 a.m., not one person showed up to the event. Participants were to gather on Bo Diddley Plaza and walk together to drop their ballots in the ballot box.
Sunday afternoon: “Souls to the Polls” event for Black voters
Black voters organized an event near the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections office in Gainesville Sunday afternoon.
The social-distanced “Souls to the Polls” event took place next to a Suntrust Bank just south of the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections office. It was organized by the Equal Ground Education Fund, an Orlando-based organization focused on empowering Black voters. The Rev. Karl Anderson, a minister from Upper Room Ministries in Gainesville, hosted the event.
Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton, wanted to ensure attendees got the information they needed to vote, as well as learn more about the candidates.
“Traditionally, in the African American community, you go to a church,” Barton said. “This is why this program is ‘souls’ to the polls. Churches bring their members here and encourage them.”
As the countdown continues, Barton thinks about the lessons her parents taught her when they lived in Memphis, Tennessee, a city that holds historical significance within the Civil Rights movement: to honor the activists of the era. Barton’s parents urged her to not take voting for granted.
Republican Alachua County Commission candidates Joy Glanzer and Raemi Eagle-Glenn sat under canopies and spoke with voters throughout the event.
Jasmine Burney-Clark, the 33-year-old founder of the Equal Ground Education Fund, said the event is a celebration and encouragement of Black voting.
The COVID-19 pandemic and increased racial tensions following the death of George Floyd really affected Black voters, Burney-Clark said. The event, she said, is meant to promote bringing Black issues to the ballot box.
“Take your issues, social and personal, to the ballot box because that's where accountability will be,” Burney-Clark said.
Multiple Black Greek organizations including Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. attended the event.
Latalyia McKnight is the 33-year-old secretary of March For Our Freedom, an organization in Gainesville. She proudly wore a pink and green pin emblazoned with the letters “AKA.” McKnight said she was excited to vote for Sen. Kamala Harris, a fellow Alpha Kappa Alpha sister, for vice president.
As a Black woman, voting is special to McKnight because it was never a guarantee, she said.
“It's not just a vote,” McKnight said. “You are voting for literally our freedom.”
Enveloped by the First United Methodist Church on one side and gospel music onstage, church goers made a steady crowd. Leaders from other churches found voting to be an important task.
“It encourages everybody to fulfill their civic duty and Christian responsibility,” the Rev. Dr. George Dix Jr. of PASSAGE Family Church said.
Representatives from Alachua County political parties gave their own words on the upcoming election with an emphasis on voter turn-out.
People should vote ahead and make plans to help relatives get to the polls, Dr. Cynthia Chestnut, 71, said, chair of the Alachua County Democratic Party.
“This is the most consequential election of our lives,” she said.
Ariana Aspuru, Edysmar Diaz-Cruz, Lianna Hubbard, Jack Prator, Manuel Rea, Rachel Slay and Steven Walker contributed to this report.