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Inside Politics

Spring break during Florida primary

By Dwayne Robinson
Special to CNN

Student correspondent Dwayne Robinson reads his student newspaper in front of statues of UF's mascots, Albert and Alberta.

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Editor's note: Campus Vibe is a feature that provides student perspectives on the 2004 election from selected colleges across the United States. This week's contributor is Dwayne Robinson, student writer at The Alligator, the University of Florida independent student newspaper. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the University of Florida.

GAINESVILLE, Florida (CNN) -- As Florida heads to the polls on Tuesday for the Democratic presidential primary election, nearly 80 percent of the quarter-million students attending Florida public universities will be on spring break.

"It's a time off from school, and kids are going off to relax," said Chris Goddard, president of Students for Dennis (Kucinich) at the University of Florida. "During a time like that, it's probably less likely that it will cross their mind [that] 'I need to vote.' "

Seven out of the 11 Florida public universities will be on spring break during the week of March 8. The election is on March 9.

Florida State University, the University of South Florida and UF -- the state's largest public universities -- are among the schools that will be on break.

At UF, spring break has fallen on the same week as the presidential primary in three of the last four elections since 1992.

But how, or if, the absence of student voters in this year's Democratic presidential primary would affect election results is unclear.

About 44,000 votes separated Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and South Carolina Sen. John Edwards in the Wisconsin primary election, held on February 17, which Kerry won.

And despite the fact that more than 200,000 students will be on spring break, according to Florida Department of Education figures, Jill Greco, vice president of UF's Gators for Kerry, said the scheduling would neither help nor harm her candidate.

"Students aren't such a huge voting block that goes out to the polls," she said. "It's not going to really make a difference. I would love to say it would make a difference, but it won't."

Goddard, who supports Ohio congressman and presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich, said spring break scheduling might affect turnout for unlikely student voters.

Those students would not receive the pre-election stimuli, such as media attention, that might have typically brought them out to the polls, he said.

"There's a lot of people [who] do make plans over spring break, and they may want to vote," Goddard added. "But if they have plans ... they might not have the opportunity."

No resistance

Regardless of the spring break conflict, low voter turnout is typical among 18- to 25-year-olds. In addition, only Democrats can vote in the Democratic primaries in Florida, and those Democrats often can vote via absentee ballots or through early voting.

This might explain why there has been no vocal opposition to the spring break schedule at UF.

Sheila Dickison, chairwoman of UF's University Curriculum Committee, said she has been on the committee, which helps approve UF's academic calendar, for 10 years without hearing any complaints about the spring break schedule conflicting with the presidential primary election.

UF officials attempt to schedule the break during the middle of the semester, which runs from January to April, she said.

Unfortunately, the middle of the semester often falls within the first weeks of March, and Florida law requires that Republican and Democratic presidential primaries be held on the second Tuesday in March; a law that has existed since the 1970s.

The spring break conflict, however, may be beneficial for some students, Dickison said.

"The question I would ask is, if folks are registered for the most part in Gainesville or where they live [permanently]," Dickison said, noting that the break may provide some students the opportunity to return home and vote.

Kerry and Kucinich supporters on campus agree. They plan to get students to vote before they go on break.

Gators for Kerry have planned to conduct an educational campaign at the J. Wayne Reitz Union and on Turlington Plaza, which attracts thousands of students every day, Greco said.

Students for Dennis are urging students to vote in their hometown districts, vote absentee or participate in early voting, Goddard said.

Goddard said he is hopeful that student turnout within Gainesville and the surrounding Alachua County will make a "significant impact" for Kucinich locally.

Though Spring Break is set in stone for this year's primary election, UF officials have said future calendar discussions will consider Florida's presidential primary.

"I think next time when we go to set the calendar, that should be a part of the discussion," said Rick Ragan, assistant university registrar at UF.

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