Update, 11:17 p.m., Nov. 9: This was updated to reflect the updated story in print.
The road to Election Day hasn’t been a pretty path. It was rocky and winding, with a series of shocks along the way. With much heavier use of social media and name-calling incidents that tossed behaviorial standards out the window, this past campaigning season has been a noisy one.
But when polling opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday, the Watsco Center was contrastingly still. There was no chanting, signs of excitement or conversation at all. Instead, about 30 groggy students silently filed into line and waited their turn to cast a ballot. Only the sounds of rustling palm tree fronds and the hum of a distant lawn mower filled the air.
A few voters were waiting outside the polling area by 6:55 a.m., but they seemed more motivated to get it over with than to support their candidates.
Freshman and political science major Lauren Berta was one of the first to line up, stopping by to vote before heading to work. Berta’s reason for voting was simple, and she stated it with a tone of certainty, as if it were obvious.
“It’s what you’re supposed to do,” she said.
By 10 a.m., there was still nearly no sense of palpable enthusiasm. Aside from Get Out the Vote organizers setting up for their noon event at the Rock Plaza, campus was experiencing its usual morning calm. The Breezeway was bare except for an occasional textbook-clutching student walking to class with headphones in their ears. Even the Rat’s most coveted gliders were unclaimed, and the only audible conversations were the squawking of ducks.
A stroll through campus revealed almost no evidence that a presidential election was taking place, let alone a charged one in such a crucial swing state. A few chalk messages on pathways encouraged students to head to the polls, some specifically promoting Donald Trump, but the Watsco Center remained for the most part without a line for the rest of the morning.
Yet the half-asleep students and community members who filtered through the polling center did seem to emerge with some newfound energy, or rather, a sense of relief.
Alec Jimenez, a junior majoring in architectural engineering, said the added weight of his contribution motivated him to vote.
“Every vote matters in the state of Florida, we’re a very important state in this election so hopefully we’ll be able to come together as one state,” Jimenez said after voting for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Although it may not be visible on campus today, the polarizing nature of this election further enhances the importance of casting a ballot.
Senior Maddie Jackson, a marine biology and microbiology major, said she won’t let her voice go unheard in this election.
“There’s two very distinct stances on this election, and I feel like I can’t be mad one way or another if I don’t vote,” Jackson said. “And I would definitely be mad one way or another.”
Other nearby local polling locations experienced a similar rush right when voting began.
“First 30 minutes, we had like 53 people,” said Jules Durand, a poll worker at St. Augustine Church.
7:00 a.m. and Polls have officially opened here at St. Augustine Church pic.twitter.com/iE7ipoQLcj
— Amanda Herrera (@_AmandaHerrera) November 8, 2016
Problems at the polls
The process of registering to vote and applying for absentee ballots may have kept some voters, especially students, from the polls.
Senior Billy Villano, who said he registered to vote in the Breezeway in October with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), biked 45 minutes to the Coral Gables library on Sunday to cast his early ballot. However, he was told that he had “registered too late,” despite the fact that he had filled out the forms with SSDP on one of the last days before the registration deadline.
“I was upset that I wasn’t able to vote this election,” said Villano, who had been previously registered in Connecticut and voted in 2012. “It was a great bike workout though.”
Colin Fitzgibbon, Florida Campus Coordinator for SSDP and UM alumnus, said this issue with registration happened to less than 10 students out of the 186 the organization registered and was a result of misplaced paperwork or unmet deadlines. The organization had to submit forms, dated and signed, within 10 days of them being filled out.
Kayla Derby, a senior, also faced some complications at the Coral Gables library, but eventually was able to vote. Derby, who is from Plantation, was registered in Broward, re-registered in Miami-Dade and then voted at the Coral Gables library.
Felix Santiago, a Coral Gables resident, could not vote at St. Augustine Church because the last name on his ID did not match his voter registration forms.
“I’m from Puerto Rico,” Santiago said, “And we use our father’s and mother’s last names. It appeared as both my last names on my paperwork. So I guess that’s something they could work on fixing for future elections.”
Tatsumi Yanaba, a senior UM student originally from Missouri, registered to vote for the first time in Miami-Dade County.
“That part was a little confusing. I registered once already, but I didn’t get anything,” Yanaba said. “So I submitted a second one. Then I checked my mailbox last week and there was that little blue card, so I was glad.”
Sofia Estevez, a sophomore, admitted that her parents made the arrangements for her absentee ballot.
“I had an absentee ballot, since I live 45 minutes away. To be honest, my parents figured it out for me. I came home and my dad said, ‘Okay, we need to vote,’” Estevez said.
A difficult decision
Many students echoed the same sentiment: this election was a difficult one to be voting in as a new voter.
“It felt cool because it was my first time voting,” Estevez said. “But it wasn’t the most satisfying feeling in the world, because I don’t really like either of the candidates.”
Nicholas Lorenzo, a junior who also voted for the first time earlier today, had a similar problem.
“It was just like a little difficult between the two candidates,” Lorenzo said. “Because it’s so drastic. People think it’s just like a joke. I just chose the candidate who I feel aligns more with my views.”
Mary Balise, who cast her ballot for Clinton by mail, said she felt like she was doing her civic duty by voting. However, the junior was unamused with the overall election season.
“Terrible,” said Balise about the state of the election. “And disappointed in America.”
While most voters are very familiar with the top-of-the-ticket candidates, students had to do more research to vote down the ballot on other important local and state issues.
Yanaba, who voted for the first time when polls opened at the Watsco Center this morning, was doing research on his phone in the polling booths.
“I was looking up every single person in the booth,” Yanaba said. “Frankly, I didn’t know most of the people on the ballot.”
Nikki Gilleland, a junior and first-time voter, woke up at 6:30 a.m. to vote at St. Augustine.
“I didn’t vote on the provisions I didn’t know about, so I left about two blank,” she said.
Like Gilleland, junior Joe Reda did not vote on the provisions he was not familiar with.
“While I had done some research on the issues on the ballot, I had no idea for some of the questions about justices,” Reda said.
Reda, who switched his registration from Illinois to Florida, voted at St. Augustine at around noon.
“It felt very strange, especially since it was in a church,” Reda said. “It was just one room, you know? You check in, print your little receipt and bubble in your ballot. It felt really casual, more like taking the SATs. And they had the privacy booths, but if you wanted to, you could just sit at a table. I almost sat down.”