Early voting

Nestor Garcia, a 21-year-old industrial engineer major, attends the early voting session at the J. Wayne Reitz Union to vote for the first time.

This year’s Gainesville election has seen the lowest first-day turnout in the past three years, despite a new UF early voting location.

The first day of the Gainesville regular election’s early voting landed on Saturday, which was at the tail end of UF’s Spring Break. For this election, voters will decide who will be the city’s mayor and one of the city commission seats. Early voting ends March 16, and election day is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. March 19.

Only 324 residents came out to vote on the first day compared to the 400 residents who voted in 2018 on the first day, Alexis Hunter, the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office information specialist, wrote in an email. In 2017, there were 416 votes. The new UF early voting location at the Reitz Union only had 15 residents come to vote.

This is the first time the Reitz will be for used for early voting in city elections, TJ Pyche, the elections office spokesperson, wrote in an email.

“We think opening early voting at the Reitz Union is an excellent way to expand voter access to University of Florida students, staff and faculty,” Pyche said.

Reitz room G50 is open for any residents to vote, he said. On election day residents who live in Precinct 31, which encompasses UF, will only be allowed to use this location.

The Reitz was used as an early voting location in the 2018 general election, which saw a significant increase in early voter turnout compared to the previous midterm in 2014.

Voters will vote for mayor, District 4 city commissioner and the charter amendment to create a City Charter Review Commission.

Candidates for mayor are incumbent Lauren Poe and opponents Marlon Bruce, Jenn Powell and Jennifer Reid. For District 4 commissioner, candidates are incumbent Adrian Hayes-Santos and opponent Robert Mounts.

The other locations for early voting are the Millhopper Library, Senior Recreation Center, Supervisor of Elections Office and Martin Luther King Jr. Center.

Daniel Smith, a UF political science professor, said that historically, voter turnout in Gainesville elections has been low, especially when held in the spring and not tied to a presidential election.

“Turnout is generally quite low,” he said. “Part of that reason is that students tend not to participate at all or participate at very, very low rates.”

District 4 covers much of the campus, including the Reitz, he said. He hopes this encourages students to vote.

Smith said the mayoral race may help generate some interest of voters, but even then, people are not thinking about elections this time of year.

“The wild card in all of this is obviously having early voting at UF,” he said. “I certainly suspect that we will have higher turnout among college students because they now have eight days of early voting at the Union.”

Karina is the city commission reporter and a second-year journalism major with a passion for storytelling and graphic design.

Kelly Hayes is a journalism and political science junior at the University of Florida. Before becoming a staff writer at The Alligator, she wrote as a contributor, and also as the marketing intern for The Florida Museum of Natural History.