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Make Your Vote Count: UT Students Spreading Awareness

By Lily Shayani

Some may agree that 2020 has been a hectic year. With news circling around topics of COVID-19, the upcoming election may be the last thing on some people’s minds. However, Senator Bernie Sanders stated that “this is the most important election of our lifetimes,” in a New York Times article last April. 

“Historically, young adults have voted at lower rates than older cohorts,” stated Campus Vote Project. “However, we saw a modest increase in student turnout from 2012 to 2016 and a tremendous improvement in youth turnout from 2014 to 2018.”

Millennials and Gen Z will be the largest share of eligible voters in 2020, but because of their lower voting rates have not been the largest share of the electorate in previous elections, according to Campus Vote Project.

The University of Tampa has two main political clubs that students can easily become involved in: UT College Democrats and UT College Republicans. Both are student-run organizations dedicated to educating their peers on politics and spreading their party’s message.

“This year’s election is crucial in determining the future of the United States,” said Claire Breeden, president of UT Democrats. “Our international reputation has been tarnished, the current administration denies the severity of climate change, black bodies are being murdered at the hands of the state, immigrants are being mistreated at the border, COVID-19 has left millions unemployed…This election will determine the future.” 

Throughout the next few months UT Democrats will be registering student voters in the Vaughn Courtyard on campus and hosting meetings via Zoom to inform voters on pressing issues. 

When asked what first-time voters should know going into this election, Breeden responded that many students were unaware that “a student attending college in Florida (that is a U.S. citizen), regardless of their home-state, can register and vote in Florida.” To keep up on all events, follow @utdemocrats on Instagram. 

The mission of UT College Republicans is to “educate students on politics, elections, and the Republican agenda, help elect conservative candidates, and to ultimately develop future leaders of the conservative movement.” 

In preparation for the November election, the club will be hosting guest speakers running for election. Some of these candidates include Congressman Jeff Van Drew from New Jersey, District 2, and Christine Quinn, running for Florida’s 14th Congressional district. They will also be hosting watch parties for the Presidential debates and Vice Presidential debate, according to John Farinelli, president of UT College Republicans. 

In addition, they will also be registering students to vote. “A first time voter should know that outside forces are always trying to persuade you to believe different things,” said Farinelli. “While a first time voter should be respectful and listen, they should be critical and question their talking points. Their vote is their vote, no one can force you to vote a certain way.” To keep up with UT College Republicans, follow their instagram @utrepublicans.

The university itself has also put certain things in place to encourage voting this year in conjunction with Student Government. 

Much of what UT is doing is through social media. The hashtag #UTampaVotes2020 was created to get students engaged and excited about voting, according to Juliana Fray, director of communications for Student Government. 

In addition, Fray’s interview with Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections can be found on UT’s Facebook and Twitter pages. She encourages students to vote because “as a student at UT, the laws and ordinances of the City of Tampa affect our student population.” She reminds students that “politics is embedded in our daily routines– fight what you are passionate about.”

In addition to encouraging voting through social media, Ian McGinnity, director of the UT Office of Student Leadership and Engagement (OSLE), said they have been “concentrating on voter registration and then want to focus on voting and the different ways of doing so.” 

Informing students of these different voting methods, especially mail-in (which is usually considered “early voting”) may be more important than ever because of COVID-19 posing as a serious threat in traditional voting booths. 

There are many other ways that UT encourages voting, such as rewarding 40 ACE points to honors students who can prove they voted. A full UT action plan can be found on allinchallenge.org. 

Important dates: 

Early voting: Oct. 24-31, 2020

Election Day Nov. 3, 2020

Absentee ballot request forms: Check individual state guidelines

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