USF’s Yuengling Center became an early voting site after a July ruling struck down a state policy that barred pre-election sites on college campuses.
USF College Democrats hosted an event Monday afternoon encouraging students to take advantage of the on-campus voting location with popsicles, chants and handmade signs.
“We think that it is important to emphasize that we have this early voting location because it didn’t happen in 2016,” said College Democrats President Nathaniel Sweet. “This is an event where we tell students that early voting is happening right here, right now on the USF campus.”
Several group representatives set up a table in front of Cooper Hall where they displayed signs for candidates, including gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum (D) and incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D). Behind the table were more group members who waved signs with slogans, “Our Future, Our Choice,” “Bulls Vote Early” and “Pokémon GO to the Polls,” the latter being a slogan used by Hillary Clinton (D) during her 2016 presidential campaign.
Sweet highlighted how important the upcoming election is, saying that there have been about 20 years of GOP control in Florida. He also said the gubernatorial contest could have implications that last for generations to come, including for students today.
“There are a lot of issues that students care about…the priorities we want as students aren’t heard because everyone assumes that young people aren’t going to vote anyway,” Sweet said. “There’s no incentive for a lot of campaigns to attract us and try to bring us in because they figure we’re not a reliable constituency.”
He’s right. According to the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, in the 2016 general election, 59,561 Hillsborough voters aged 18-25, an eight-year span, cast their ballots. Conversely, Hillsborough voters aged 56-60, a five-year span, cast 58,125 ballots.
That may not seem like a large discrepancy. In fact, more 18- to 25-year-olds than 56- to 60-year-olds voted in that election. In this year’s primary elections in Hillsborough County, however, only 9,309 voters aged 18-25 voted compared to the 25,193 votes cast by voters aged 56-60.
Part of the problem, according to Jeffery Gibson, a USF senior who already voted, is that young people aren’t informed. Voting, he says, is a way to remedy the problem.
“There were like 10 judges that I didn’t know and it was like taking a test,” Gibson said. “This is like preparing for a test you’re going to be taking for the rest of your life…you get started now, you get used to it. When you’re really an adult, you’ll be able to make a difference.”
Gibson went on to say that he thinks young people have a strong voice and that he, along with other younger voters, need to use that voice to get what they want.
Although the event was sponsored by College Democrats, the ultimate goal of the event was to get students to the polls.
Sweet and other group members led a number of students to the Yuengling Center to cast their votes before early voting closes Nov. 4.
“Our goal is to get students to vote in general,” Sweet said. “Obviously, we support a certain slate of candidates and certain policies…We see nothing wrong with Republican student organizations trying to get their own students out to vote as well. It’s just important for us as a constituency to participate in democracy to begin with.”