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Early voters in Durham turn out in record numbers

Durham County is leading the state in early voting turnout numbers. Data from the Durham County government and the Civitas Institute.
Durham County is leading the state in early voting turnout numbers. Data from the Durham County government and the Civitas Institute.

Duke’s one-stop on-campus early voting site has attracted more than 2,000 voters, helping Durham County cast more votes so far than any other county in North Carolina in this year’s primary election.

Since the April 19 opening of the site, 2,398 students, faculty, staff and N.C. residents have utilized the University’s early voting site as of Sunday, which is located in the Old Trinity Room in the West Union Building. Due to the waning attention to the Republican presidential primary, voter participation has focused on Amendment One—a proposed state constitutional amendment that would define marriage between a man and a woman as the only legally recognized domestic union, banning civil unions and domestic partnerships.

N.C. residents have cast 121,545 votes at one-stop sites and with mail-in ballots since early voting began April 19, according to data from the Carolina Transparency project of the Civitas Institute, a conservative political advocacy group. This figure outnumbers the first-week turnout in the 2008 primary—when the Democratic presidential candidacy was still up for grabs—by more than 10,000 votes. By Sunday, almost 12,500 Durhamites cast their votes, the highest number of any county in the state thus far.

“The surge in Durham voting shows that Durham is a progressive community that cares deeply about the issues on the ballot,” said freshman David Winegar, incoming co-president of Duke Democrats.

North Carolina precincts 5 and 2, which are comprised almost entirely of Duke students, received the first and second highest turnout by precinct in the state respectively, according to the data from Civitas. Duke’s voting site has accounted for about one-fifth of Durham County’s votes.

The success of the on-campus voting site has allowed the University to secure a similar site for the 2012 general election, Winegar said.

“Duke is a campus that overwhelmingly stands against Amendment One, and that’s definitely what’s drawing students to the polls,” said sophomore Jacob Tobia, chair of Duke Together Against Constitutional Discrimination. “North Carolinians should know that young people in our state energetically oppose Amendment One.”

About 85 percent of Duke voters said they would “commit to vote against” or “possibly vote against” the amendment in a poll of more than 30 percent of the Class of 2015 conducted April 5 by Duke Democrats, the Duke chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Duke OutLaw. Only 3 percent of students surveyed said they would not vote against the amendment, and the remaining 12 percent said they were ineligible to vote in North Carolina.

Student opposition to Amendment One reflects the administration’s and student political groups’ stance on it. The University and Duke Medicine released a joint statement Feb. 17 declaring their support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in response to the proposed amendment. Blue Devils United, Duke College Republicans and Duke Democrats jointly outlined their opposition to the amendment and urged the Duke community to vote against it in a letter to the editor published in The Chronicle April 16.

“Our great turnout shows that Duke is not the university it has been often portrayed as in the media—elitist and apathetic to local issues,” Winegar added. “Duke students care about the future of our state and are being responsible citizens by making their voices heard.”

Anyone who has been a N.C. resident for at least 30 days can both register and vote on the same visit to the on-campus early voting site. The voting site will remain open until May 5, and the official election day is May 8.

In the 2008 primary election, 70 percent of early votes were cast in the final six days of the early voting window, suggesting that there may be a surge of early voters in coming weeks.

“So far, only [a third] of students have cast ballots, and we can do a lot better than that,” Tobia noted. “We’re hoping to see another surge of early voting when exams wrap up.”

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