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MSC precinct sees large turnout of first-time voters

Melissa Garzon, a freshman majoring in criminology, was the first in line to vote.
I arrived at the Marshall (Student) Center at 5:30 a.m., she said. It felt amazing, and like I had done such an important thing. All the research Ive done feltworth it.
Polls opened in Florida at 7:00 a.m., and the Marshall Student Center (MSC), which served as Precinct 353, was no stranger to enthusiastic voters.

From there, the voters kept coming, and the line began to snake at the north entrance of the MSC. By the time the polls closed, 61.28 percent of voters registered in the precinct had voted 1,160 of 1,893.

Being late to class didnt stop first-time voters from spending time waiting in line up to two hours for those who voted in the late afternoon and many said they did research before voting to make sure they were prepared.

Matthew Rhoades, a sophomore with an undeclared major, got in line around 8:30 a.m. Rhoades first experience with the election system didnt go so smoothly, he said.

When I went to register to vote here at USF, they forgot a letter in my last name and it really messed things up. I didnt even know if I could vote until yesterday, he said.

This however, did not deter Rhoades from voting, even if it meant being late to class. It was 8:30 a.m., Rhoades had a 9 a.m. class, and it looked like the front of the line was never going to come.

Im not going to say voting is more important than class, but as long as I have a sticker saying I voted, I think my teacher will be okay, he said.

Rhoades said he voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, after doing research and finding that Johnsons policies best reflected his own views.

I dont feel like voting for a third party candidate is throwing away my vote like most people think, he said. I voted for Gary Johnson because I was voting for who would best represented my values.

Ariana Matos, a freshman majoring in mass communications,waited for about half an hour, and said she think she did well, deciphering the complex language on the ballots. I didnt know who many people were on the ballot because it was Senators and other people who you dont hear coverage on, she said. Generally, I got the gist of everything and I think I voted well on the amendments.
By 3 p.m., the wait time reached almost two hours.
Supervisor of Elections Official Kevin Connell said the longer lines were likely because of students who arrived and were not registered to vote at the MSC. They had to change their addresses upon arrival at the precinct.

Voters who were registered to vote in Hillsborough County but were not assigned to vote at the MSC were allowed to fill out a provisional ballot.

Connell estimated that by 3:00 p.m. approximately 500 ballots had been cast at the MSC.
Me being out there circumventing (the issue) before they got in here, it really helped, Connell said. It really went a lot more smoothly this time around.

Despite the large turnout of students, MSC Director Sujit Chemburkar said the voting process ran smoothly.

Weve spent a lot of time working hand in hand with our local board of elections, and weve spent time with the staff that operates the Marshall Center to kind of figure out where lines are going to go, Chemburkar said.
As far as complications, Chemburkar said he didnt noticed very many.
I think the ballot was pretty long, and the confusion of if students were eligible to vote in the precinct was nipped a bit, Chemburkar said. The collaboration that we had with Student Government and the amount of marketing that was done came together, so I feel like people werent as confused (this year).
Lucia Baker, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, said she saw the confusion that was present during the 2008 election and knew that, as a first time voter, she needed to get her ducks in a row.Its important to vote, Baker said. But I feel like youre not fully exercising your right to vote if you are not educated about who and what you are voting for.

Baker said she thinks misinformation surrounding elections give people the feeling that their vote doesnt matter.

This is a big deal, she said. When people are misinformed, they dont understand their rights as a voter and then they dont vote.

Lawrie, a senior majoring in womens studies and biomedical sciences, also said being informed was an important part of voting.

I made sure I had my sample ballot with me in line, and I went in knowing what I wanted to do with my ballot when I got there, Lawrie said.

Lawrie also pointed to misinformation as a reason a lot of her friends chose not to vote.
People get into the room and look at the ballot and they are intimidated because they see a bunch of text in English and Spanish and they might not even understand the English because we arent all law students, she said. People should get an understanding of whats on the ballot before they come to vote.

Amid the crowds of first time student voters were also experienced voters, such as graduate students registered to vote at the MSC precinct.

Katie Taylor, a doctoral student in medical anthropology, who said she has voted in two previous presidential elections, got in line around 2:30 p.m. In the last election she said she was an activist and community planner.

This election, however, Taylor said she was admittedly a little less prepared.
To be honest, I didnt really research any of the local candidates or amendments, she said.

She said her busy schedule prevented her from being able to do as much research as she wanted to.

Anyone who was in line by 7:00 p.m. was eligible to vote, regardless of how long it took for the line to be completed
The last student to vote at the MSC, Valerie Strawn, a sophomore majoring in psychology, left the polls at 7:55 p.m.
Its my first time voting. I didnt think there was so much to vote on, Strawn said. I had to read through the amendments carefully because I wasnt prepared.Having something to take care of at 6:30 p.m., Strawn said she was busy throughout the day and knew that as long as she arrived at the polls by 7, her vote would be counted.

I dont really have an excuse for being so late I got in here at 6:50 p.m. and I was the last person, she said. Im lucky because I only had to wait an hour. It was cool being the last to vote. It kind of makes me feel like Im the determining factor.