Early votes ‘alarmingly’ low for Duke

This year’s election season has so far proven a stark contrast to that of 2008, when masses of Dukies turned to the polls as part of an unprecedented youth turnout that propelled President Barack Obama to a narrow victory in North Carolina.

With just five days until Election Day, less than 1 percent of Duke students have cast their ballots for the N.C. midterm elections, compared with a 91 percent Duke voter turnout two years ago, said Gunther Peck, Fred W. Shaffer associate professor of history and public policy. Early polls have been open since Oct. 14.

As of Thursday, the Durham Board of Elections had counted just 68 votes cast by Duke students that live on campus, 40 of whom live on Central Campus. The board’s director, Mike Ashe, said just nine East Campus voters and 17 West Campus voters took to the polls, but noted that the statistics could be slightly depressed because they do not include those students that register and vote on the same day.

Although it is normal for voter turnout to be lower in a midterm election than in a presidential one, Peck said the numbers indicating Duke’s political turnout this year are exceptionally and alarmingly low.

He noted that whereas Duke’s voter turnout in 2008 was greater than that of surrounding universities, its turnout this year has been one-tenth that of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Duke went from being a leader to a distant laggard,” he said.

Peck said the numbers could be explained in part by the fact that students who wish to vote this year must head off campus, whereas they were able to vote at an on-campus early voting site in 2008.

“All students had to do was show an ID on their way to Chick-fil-A, vote, and they were done... it was obviously very convenient,” he said, adding that Durham does not have enough money to provide a similar site in a midterm election season. “What is unusual and alarming to me [this year] is just how negligible the turnout has been... particularly for a school that prides itself on engagement.”

Both the Duke Democrats and the Duke College Republicans have been active in promoting their preferred candidates this Fall, but the two groups have differed in their strategies.

The Duke Dems are focusing on voter transportation, while DCR is concentrating its efforts on phone banking for incumbent Republican Senator Richard Burr.

“Unfortunately, a lot of our activities have been focused not necessarily on campus,” said DCR president Stephen Bergin, a senior.

He referred all further comment to DCR Chief of Staff Rachel Provost, a senior, who emphasized the group’s collaboration with the Burr campaign over any voting awareness and transportation campaigns.

Sophomore Elena Botella, a member of the Duke Dems, said it does not make sense for DCR to encourage students to vote because the majority of them are Democrats. The Duke Dems, on the other hand, hope to maximize student turnout at the polls through direct action.

“We’ve been mass e-mailing students and [offering them rides].... We’ve driven about 25 students so far,” Botella said, adding that the organization has asked the University to provide students with buses that will shuttle them to the polls on Election Day as it did in 2008.

Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said the University does not plan to offer such transportation to the polls and noted that midterm elections are generally approached differently than presidential ones.

Students who wish to vote early may do so at 706 West Corporation St. until Saturday. On Election Day Nov. 2, students who registered on East may vote at 700 Watts St. and students who registered on West may vote at 2614 Crest St.


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