Candidates woo voters at ‘Souls to the Polls’

Paris Winningham
Paris Winningham, a former contestant on the television show "The Voice," performs for the crowd. (Photo by Megan Winslow)

Free food, games and a little star power were offered at the Souls to the Polls event Sunday afternoon next to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office building.  

Around 200 locals gathered at the elections office in Gainesville for the event, which was aimed at driving turnout for the Aug. 23 elections.  

Paris Winningham, a finalist on NBC’s The Voice Season 21, headlined the event. Paris is an R&B/Soul singer who, during his Voice blind audition, received high praise from coaches John Legend and Ariana Grande. As the season progressed, the Jacksonville resident became part of Blake Shelton’s team and finished in the top three vocalists in Season 21.  

Along with Winningham, other musical artists joined the stage to perform at the Souls to the Polls event, including local recording artist Sha Speaks.  

“I love being part of things that improve the community,” Speaks said in an interview. “It was a blessing to perform today. It was fulfilling and exciting.” 

Local, state and federal candidates all gave stump speeches about their campaign platforms. Education was a consistent theme throughout the event, as candidates touched on issues such as equality of access, teacher shortages, non-college attending student options and literacy concerns.  

The education issues seemed to resonate with locals in attendance.  

Photo by Megan Winslow Crist poses for photos with event attendees after his speech.

“Education is the biggest thing,” said attendee Stephanie Seawright. “It has been a lack of true equality regarding the different school systems and offerings. We must do a better job, getting more vocational training since not everybody is college bound. It is up to the school board to help those students who want to work and have a living wage.”  

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democratic candidate for governor, attended Sunday’s event and encouraged the crowd to start a “vote” chant to begin his speech.  

“It is all about voting,” said Crist, who served as Florida’s governor from 2007 to 2011. “If we want to make a change, we have to be the change.”  

Crist joined the chorus of candidates in discussing his education platform, while also voicing support for legalizing recreational marijuana, abortion rights, and equal rights for all people. He’s battling Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried for the right to face Gov. Ron DeSantis in the general election.

Free food, performances and snow cones had community goers smiling and dancing at the event. Still, the candidates, along with their speeches, informed the voters why they should vote, which was precisely what event co-planner Chanae Jackson had in mind.

“The most crucial goal of the event was to motivate people to go to the polls and vote,” she said in an interview. “We did that today.” 

The event was sponsored by Florida for All, Black Voters Matter, 98.9 Jamz FM and the Alachua County chapter of the NAACP.

Early voting for the primary and municipal elections began Saturday and will continue until next Saturday, Aug. 20, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.  

Editor’s note: This article was updated to with the sponsors of the event.

Photo by Megan Winslow Jeremiah Aucoin dances with children as Christian rap and hip hop songs play.
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