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Gainesville Responds To Low Voter Turnout With Registration Drive

Kim Barton, director of outreach for the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office, registers a student at Santa Fe College to vote during National Voter Registration Day.
Kim Barton, director of outreach for the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office, registers a student at Santa Fe College to vote during National Voter Registration Day.

More than 60 percent, or 86,000, of Gainesville's registered voters turned out for the presidential election that sent President Obama back to the White House for a second term.

But less than 10 percent, 10,000, of those 140,000 registered voters showed up at the polls to send representatives to City Hall,  according to research by University of Florida professor Daniel Smith.

Presidential elections will usually draw a bigger crowd than local elections because more attention, both nationwide and globally, is placed on these elections, according to Smith.

But the city of Gainesville wants to boost that dismal turnout in local elections and provide voters with the information to become more informed before they arrive at the polls.

So it has partnered with the Florida Chamber of Commerce to offer a solution to the low turnout rate: a voter registration drive.

The weeklong initiative, which began Sept. 21 for Employee Voter Registration Week, equips employers with the necessary voter resources to pass on to their employees.

“It’s one thing to be registered to vote, but it's another thing to turn out,” Smith said.

The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce has more than 1,500 member businesses that employ about 70,000 people. The initiative was created to combat low voter turnout and increase political engagement, said Alyssa Brown, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce director of communications.

“Seventy thousand people is a huge shared voice,” Brown said. “We want to make sure that our members, who are their employers, are giving them the information to let them know that they need to be registered and participate in the civic process.”

As part of the initiative, Florida Chamber members will provide business members with voter registration information and outreach content for their employees, including flyers, sample emails and social media posts.

“It’s important for those employers to make sure that their teams know what’s going on and are kept abreast about issues that could potentially impact their industries and their jobs,” Brown said. “It’s important for them to be empowered by being registered.”

The initiative is an effective option for the city because it allows the private sector to engage in outreach. Employers are doing their part to get people to register, said Pam Carpenter, Alachua County supervisor of elections.

“To see a business make a commitment to their employees to offer the opportunity to register to vote or to update their records, speaks highly for those businesses,” Carpenter said.

Outside of Employee Voter Registration Week, the supervisor of elections office in Gainesville is active throughout the year with voter registration outreach programs such as registering and pre-registering high school seniors, partnering with other organizations to register citizens at different events and attending naturalization ceremonies to register new U.S. citizens.

Updating voter information is of equal importance to voter registration, according to  Smith. It is crucial for those who live, work and study in a city to register their current address to vote in both local and national elections.

Gabriella is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.