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Gator Party wins majority of Senate seats, student voter turnout decreases

  • Updated
  • 4 min to read
A picture of Change Party

Members of Change Party react outside the Reitz Student Union as Gator Party members win a majority of district seats in the University of Florida Student Senate on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.

UF Student Government’s current majority party, Gator Party, dominated the elections Wednesday night, winning 37 of the 50 Senate seats. Independent candidates won the two seats that it ran for and one seat remains vacant. 

Up to 10 of District D’s seats could be recounted because 10 Change Party candidates lost a seat by less than a half-percent of the votes in that district, according to the election results. A recount must be completed by 11:30 p.m. Thursday, according to SG’s election rules.

Short voting lines ended with an empty Reitz Student Union, where in past semesters hundreds of candidates and students craned to watch the supervisor of elections announce voting results from the staircase.

This semester, Reitz Union’s seats grew cold and its doors closed on the two candidates watching for election results and late-night studiers at 11 p.m. The supervisor of elections announced the results over a Zoom meeting at about 11:30 p.m. 

Two Progressive Party candidates watched the three-minute announcement at a computer outside Weimer Hall. About 15 masked Change Party members and one dog huddled under the Reitz Union pavilion to watch the results around one computer.

Union Party did not host a watch event, party president Branden Reis said.

Gator Party, which is now a year old, ran on a platform of increasing the number of student tickets offered for home games, distributing materials to test drinks for the use of date-rape drugs and auditing UF buildings for ADA compliance and environmental sustainability.

It also promised immigrant services included in the Student Legal Services and a virtual counseling option for UF’s Counseling and Wellness Center. 

Gator Party did not respond to about 50 requests for comment Wednesday night.

Across elections Tuesday and Wednesday and through the early and absentee voting process, 6,130 students voted. Students cast 3,698 votes through the absentee and new early options. Gator, the current majority party, ran alongside three new parties this election: Change, Union and Progressive. 

About 9,900 voted in Fall 2019 SG elections – 3,000 more than this semester.

SG uses a$22 million budget of student fees to fund student organizations, Student Legal Services and the Recreational Sports department.

Independent candidates Zachery Utt (Murphree Area) and Jamison McAdams (Lakeside Complex) won in their districts. Change Party, a new party, has two seats in District D up for recount. Graduate and Family Housing is still vacant as it did not have any candidates.

Progressive Party and Union Party did not win any of the 23 seats they ran for collectively.

None of the new parties benefited from their usual foot traffic marketing with fewer students walking around campus. Supervisor of Elections Hayley Price created early voting as a COVID-19 safety precaution for all students and absentee voting for students in quarantine.

UF Provost Joseph Glover and the UF Supreme Court rejected online voting in September. The online option was declared unconstitutional in 2006 and has remained a contested SG issue since. Some senators and students hoped online voting would make voting simpler and more accessible.

A picture of Progressive Party President and Vice President

Mark Merwitzer, Progressive Party treasurer and vice president, is seen with Alfredo Ortiz, Progressive Party president, in the Reitz Student Union, during a recount on the SG elections results on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.

Parties weigh in on results

Independent candidate Zachery Utt won 43% of Murphree Area votes. When he heard his win during the election results announcement, Utt said he screamed so loud that his neighbors called his dorm’s resident assistant.

“I ran a zero-dollar campaign and won and that shows you don’t need money to win elections in Student Government,” he said.

Utt will start his new SG chapter by improving the fire alarm system in Fletcher and Sledd halls. 

Colin Solomon, Change Party president, said the outcome was unexpected but the party is willing to work with it. 

“We're going to take that and we're going to go into Spring as the best run campaign this university has ever seen,” he said. 

He said the party will stay true to its pillars of equity, justice and representation for every student. The party will elect a caucus leader in the Senate to try and address all of Change’s platform points to the best of their ability, he said. 

Progressive Party President Alfredo Ortiz said the low voter turnout wasn’t only disappointing but unconstitutional, but did not explain how. Voter turnout is not mentioned in the UF Student Body Constitution or the election code. He said he will file a complaint with the Election Commission.

Ortiz requested that the Supervisor of Election investigate the validity of the elections with COVID-19 limiting students’ access to polls Wednesday before the results.

“I won’t base the future of my party off a fraudulent election,” he said.

Ortiz said that he wants to continue Progressive Party’s work by creating a socialist party in future semesters.

Union Party campaign manager Ethan Lomio said elections are difficult for new parties and that he was proud of the votes they received, despite not filling any seats. Union candidates got 400 votes total for the eleven seats they ran for. 

“Win, lose or draw — Union Party is here to stay,” he said.

Independent Jamison McAdams (Lakeside Complex) declined to comment on his win.

A picture of the Reitz Student Union

The Reitz Student Union is seen primarily empty on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, during the results of the student government elections.

Fewer voters rush to polls

Amelia Shipley, an 18-year-old UF health sciences freshman, voted with her friend two minutes before the polls closed at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Shipley said she didn’t know it was the last day of voting until a Change Party tabler approached her as she was leaving Reitz Union. She didn’t have time to research candidates before entering the polls and only heard about the parties from Change and Progressive party tablers.

“We’re freshmen so it's hard to be informed about anything,” she said. 

She said that the safety precautions in the polling location were good, but she would have preferred an online voting option.

Riccardo Ansaldi, a 26-year-old UF astronomy and geology senior, said he couldn’t vote in his first SG election at the Keys Complex polling location because he didn’t bring his phone to the polls with him.

To log into vote at polling location computers, students need to use DuoPush to verify their GatorOne login information, just like logging into Canvas or One.UF.

Ansaldi isn’t tied to his phone, he said, so he didn’t bring it from his District C location to the voting booth. He said he would try to vote again at Keys later that day.

“Not only did they make me come down here, but they didn’t allow me to vote,” he said. 

Within the polling location, Ansaldi said he felt unsafe voting in person. The hallways leading to the polling station and the room itself were narrow.

Assistant Supervisor of Elections Jeremy Grant said his hour-and-a-half training for election day didn’t include how to help students vote in that scenario.

Anna Magruder, an 18-year-old UF biology freshman, felt compelled to vote at Murphree due to parking issues on campus. In order to get to her job, she has to bike one mile to her car, so she hopes her vote will change that.

Magruder said she would’ve preferred the option of online voting, as some of her friends who lived off campus weren’t aware of the elections. Online voting would have accommodated them better, she said.

She also was concerned about the sanitation process at Murphree.

“I know that those computers aren't getting sanitized in between each person,” Magruder said. “I'm gonna go home and probably sanitize my stuff because I don't know how many people have touched the computer before.”

 

Corbin Bolies, Meghan McGlone and Thomas Weber contributed to this report.

Contact Lianna at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @hubbardlianna.

Staff Writer

Lianna Hubbard is a Women’s Study major at UF. She has been in journalism for three years, beginning as a freelance reporter and working her way to Editor-In-Chief of her community college newspaper. Now she’s The Alligator's SG reporter.