Sabrina Ochoa didn’t know when she went to vote early in the Reitz Union on Monday that she’d be the first UF student to do so.
Ochoa, a 20-year-old UF psychology senior, grabbed her iced pumpkin spice latte from the Reitz Union Starbucks and headed down a flight of stairs to wait in line to cast her vote at 8:15 a.m.— 45 minutes before the polls opened.
While waiting in line with faculty members, it hit her that she’d be the first student ever to cast her ballot at the Reitz Union, which became an early voting location this year.
“It was kind of surreal,” Ochoa said. “I woke up this morning and didn’t think I was going to make history by any means. One of the better Mondays in my book.”
Ochoa and more than 450 people voted at the Reitz Union on the first day of early voting, according to numbers generated by electronic check-ins, said TJ Pyche, the spokesperson for the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections. On Tuesday, the second day of early voting, 549 people cast their ballots.
Students can vote in G-50, next to the entrance of the Reitz Union Hotel, across from Subway and Wells Fargo from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Nov. 3.
“Our goal is always to expand access to voting,” Pyche said.
During 29-year-old Megan Forbes’ lunch break, she and her co-workers took a 10-minute walk down Center Drive to vote. She said it was more convenient than when she voted downtown during the primary election in August.
“I am a big proponent of making voting easier for people because so few people actually do vote,” Forbes said.
In order for the Reitz Union to become an early voting location, Jaime Roy and Megan Newsome, Vote Everywhere ambassadors, filed a lawsuit in May against Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner with the Florida League of Women Voters and the Andrew Goodman Foundation, which funds Vote Everywhere.
Newsome, a 22-year-old Andrew Goodman Foundation fellow and UF astrophysics alumna, said that UF is “knocking it out of the park so far.”
As of Tuesday, more than 1,000 people voted at the Reitz Union. Miami Dade College had 564 voters Monday, and the University of Central Florida had 564 combined on Monday and Tuesday.
“I’m wildly impressed, to be honest,” Newsome said. “I expected UF to be low.”
Roy, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, said they felt exhilarated by the first day of early voting.
“There is historically low turnout for college students,” Roy said. “We’re also a group that historically doesn’t have reliable transportation but this makes a big difference.”
The 21-year-old UF political science and marine science senior plans to vote Nov. 1, the last day of Battle of the Ballots, a competition among colleges to see which had the highest voter turnout, with fellow Vote Everywhere ambassadors.
“It’s not often that you get to see the change happen this quickly,” Roy said. “It’s reality now.”
Meriza Candia and her boyfriend voted before she went to work in the afternoon. She said it was easier for her to vote on the first day because of the convenience.
“I can vote and go to class and work and not think about it later,” Candia, a 23-year-old UF political science senior, said.
She said she was going to wear her “I voted” sticker at her job at the Multicultural and Diversity Affairs suite in the Reitz Union to let others know about the opportunity to vote just a few floors down.
“We’re often the group that they blame a lot of things on,” Candia said. “When students actually come out in huge numbers and vote, it’s showing other generations that we can do it, we are doing it and you’re going to finally have to listen to us.”