- On Wednesday, UGA Votes, a student-run voting organization at the University of Georgia, announced that in-person early voting would not be allowed on campus because of the coronavirus pandemic.
- This led to frustrations from students and others in the community who felt it was outrageous that in-person classes and fans at school football games would be allowed but voting would not.
- The school initially responded by saying that football games and voting are different and that it had plans to shuttle students to polling locations, but this only resulted in more outrage.
- On Thursday morning, UGA fully reversed its decision and said it is working with local officials to use Stegeman Coliseum as an early voting location.
UGA To Allow Early Voting on Campus
After a wave of criticism, the University of Georgia said Thursday that it was walking back on its decision to cut in-person voting on campus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In an official statement, the school said is now working with local officials to have in-person voting at its Stegeman Coliseum.
“UGA was pleased this morning to offer Athens-Clarke County and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office the use of Stegeman Coliseum as a site for early voting,” the school said.
“We look forward to working with state and local election officials to facilitate on-campus voting in this indoor venue, which is large enough to support safe social distancing.”
UGA’s Initial Plan
The announcement comes just 24 hours after the school was faulted for saying it could not hold early in-person voting on its campus, which it had done at the Tate Student Center in 2016 and 2018.
When revealing that initial plan, the school cited the coronavirus pandemic as the reason behind the move. According to UGA Votes, a student-run voting organization, the school believed social distancing at the location would be impossible. UGA Votes did bring up the possibility of using the Coliseum but were initially told it would not work.
“UGA Votes is deeply saddened to announce that there will be no on-campus early voting for the 2020 presidential election,” the group said in their statement, still encouraging students to vote despite this obstacle.
One of the main reasons students and others were frustrated with this choice was because while the school rejected the notion of hosting early voting, which begins on October 12, the school’s Sanford Stadium will allow fans in for UGA football games starting October 3. The stadium will fill seats to 20-25% of its nearly 93,000 person capacity.
Many students, UGA community members, and others took to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction with the school’s decision. Some suggested that the school use its football stadium as an early voting location.
The issue also caught the attention of Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate and founder of Fair Fight, an organization devoted to fighting voter suppression.
“COVID19 must never be used as an excuse to limit voting access, including on college campuses,” she wrote. “Early voting at @universityofga has increased opportunity for participation among students in the past, and they should be safely given the same access this year.”
UGA’s chapter of Fair Fight also tweeted, “If we can have football, we should have voting, too.” Its account then shared a petition demanding that the school allow voting, which had over 2,300 signatures as of Thursday morning.
“We strongly urge the University to immediately change course and not be complicit in voter suppression,” the petition reads.
“We find it interesting that the Administration would use student safety as an excuse to limit access to democracy while disregarding student welfare in other regards,” it continued, potentially in reference to the large COVID-19 outbreak the school has seen.
Cases at the school are actually on the decline as of last week in comparison to the week prior. The school reported 421 cases between September 7-13, down from 1,490 cases between August 21-September 6. While it’s a significant decline for a week, overall, the outbreak at UGA is one of the largest college outbreaks across the country.
UGA’s Initial Response
As the backlash continued to pour in, the school tweeted out a statement explaining and defending its initial choice to not hold in-person early voting. UGA maintained that with the ongoing pandemic, the long lines would make it unsafe.
“Those comparing this matter to a football game should be able to recognize that football games will be played outdoors but we will still require social distancing by substantially reducing capacity in the stadium,” the statement said to specifically address those mad that football spectating was still on. “We have eliminated tailgating as well due to a desire to keep the campus as safe as possible and limit visitors during the pandemic.”
It also said it would provide a shuttle to send students to other voting locations, like Downtown Athens. However, this response was met with even more outrage as some thought that if social distancing to wait in line would be impossible, then social distancing in a shuttle would be even harder. Others said that the shuttle would just make lines at other polling places even longer.
Many also said that this was an attempt to suppress young voters.
Before the school released it’s Thursday statement fully reversing course, it tweeted later on Wednesday that it would look into the potential of using the Coliseum.
See what others are saying: (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (CNN) (Athens Banner-Herald)
Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”
- Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
- The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot.
- So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.
Florida Requires Proof of Residency
Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.
Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it.
According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.
Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers.
Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited
Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north.
“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”
See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)
Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”
- Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
- Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
- Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.
Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet
Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”
At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017.
Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony.
“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”
Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.
“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”
What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”
Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing.
“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”
“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”
Nation Impressed by Gorman
“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment.
“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”
Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration.
Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation.
Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day.
See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)
SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section
- The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June.
- The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
- Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary.
- It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.
College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay
College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.
Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”
The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary.
While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S.
Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.
With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.
The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test
In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.
In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.
According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.
For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April.