USF leads Florida universities in voter registration

Three weeks before the announcement that Arnold Schwarzenegger won the circus battle for governor of California, USF had its own political victory. During Wake Up Wednesday IV on Sept. 17, a voter registration initiative for students across the state, USF registered more than 500 students to vote, more than any other university in the state of Florida.

The figures were announced by the Florida Student Association last month to public universities in a meeting in Tallahassee.

“We are leading the way in the State University System with our broad array of initiatives implemented to motivate, educate and register our students to vote,” said Jarrod Ali, attorney general of USF Student Government.

In fact, USF is not only leading the way, but it has helped pave it. Former student lobbyist Shawna Mulford created Wake Up Wednesday at USF, which spread to include all schools in the SUS in 2000.

“We have been labeled as apathetic, and college students have been so often ignored by legislators,” Mulford told The Oracle in 2000. “It’s not that they don’t care. They don’t have to listen because we don’t vote.”

Mulford had told The Oracle that her attempt was primarily an effort to get students involved with their government. Under her supervision, Wake Up Wednesday I registered 182 students to vote.

Although the numbers have increased steadily in the last three years, Ali said he believes that Hillsborough County’s new touch screen voting system may have helped lure more students.

“As a result of this new system in voting, younger voters are more likely to vote in an election because the system fits in with their lifestyle,” Ali said. “It’s quick, it’s easy to understand and it’s computerized.”

Ali added that the turnout at the polls next year for the presidential primaries and subsequent election will be higher thanks to the new system, but also Ali said he thinks it will lead to further scrutiny for the state of Florida.

“Particular attention and scrutiny will be placed on Florida due to the 2000 presidential election,” Ali said. “But we will also be scrutinized because we were the first state to change our voting system to either a touch screen, computerized voting system, or an optical scan ballot system.”

Staff members from the Supervisor of Elections’ Office, including Supervisor of Elections Buddy Johnson, attended Wake Up Wednesday IV at USF and assisted students with any problems related to the new system.

“We hosted Hillsborough County’s touch screen voting system to keep our students informed about the system through interactive learning,” Ali said.

Wake Up Wednesday IV also encouraged resident students who were already registered to vote to switch their registration to enable them to vote on campus.

Regina Scarpetta, a student who switched her precinct to USF’s during last year’s Wake Up Wednesday, helped with this year’s initiative. Ali said her enthusiasm to help with the initiative this year resulted from her awareness of the benefits of registering on campus.

Ali said voting on campus is convenient because time spent driving to an off-campus poll site, waiting in line and time lost at work is avoided.

“When students live on campus and register in the University’s precinct, No. 353, they vote on campus (in the Phyllis Marshall Center),” Ali said. “This makes it much more convenient for a student who is very busy with class or may not want to leave the campus and lose their parking spot, for example.”