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Early voter turnout at Duke sets on-campus record

More than 10,000 people cast their ballots at Duke’s early voting site, setting a new record for early voter turnout on campus.

Student organizers credited the high turnout to the location of the polling site in the Brodhead Center as well as the increased coordination of voter mobilization initiatives. The site was open to the community, and anyone who was registered in the county could vote there.

Fritz Mayer, director of Duke's Center for Political Leadership, Innovation and Service, said that he hopes this election’s record turnout will be a proof of concept for keeping the polling site at the Brodhead Center for future elections.

“I love the symbolism of a voting site at the heart of Duke,” Mayer said. “It’s a great statement that this is something the University values.”

In recent years, the early voting site was hosted at Devil’s Den and the Freeman Center for Jewish Life, both of which are located on Central Campus.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, said that the University administration is on board to keep the host site the same, but the decision will be up to Durham County Board of Elections.

Duke Votes—a new organization backed by POLIS that coordinates voting initiatives—has also been active in mobilizing voters on campus. 

“This is the first time that a center has taken responsibility for making sure that there’s a good website, coordinating student efforts, putting some resources into signage and lobbying to get the polling site in place,” Mayer said.

Representatives from Duke Student Government, political clubs and multicultural groups also met weekly to discuss ways to promote registration, education and turnout leading up to and during the election.

Duke Votes also hosted Party at the Polls on the first day of early voting with free food and live performances. 

“The most important thing now is that the infrastructure is in place and contacts between organizations have been established,” said senior Michelle Li, president of the Asian Students Association.

Mayer added that Duke Votes is already putting together a standing committee to start planning campus-wide initiatives for the 2020 election.

Many students also noticed increased energy around early voting, with friends posting pictures of their “I Voted” stickers or changing their Facebook status.

One of these students, senior Brian Buhr—president of Duke University Union—said it seemed like people were excited to vote for the sake of voting. 

“Two years ago, a lot of the energy and rhetoric around the election was to stop Trump…and it seemed to be really outcomes-based," he said. "This year, what I noticed is that people were voting because it’s cool, because it’s their civic duty.”

An analysis by The Atlantic suggested that a nationwide youth wave to vote was ignited by the Parkland survivors and celebrities who organized a live-streamed telethon to call for young voters. 

Although 18-to-29-year-olds gained the most voters of any age group for early voting, they still made up the lowest percentage of early voters. The analysis cited ABC exit polls suggesting that young voters constituted 13 percent of the electorate this year, compared to 11 percent in 2014.

In North Carolina, voters passed a constitutional amendment requiring people to show a photo ID at the polls. A North Carolina law mandating that voters show ID was struck down in 2016 by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals due to concerns about discrimination.

“Our efforts will be even more important given that one of the amendments that passed last night in North Carolina has to do with voter ID,” Li said. “It will be even more critical that these efforts are strong and we get the word out, especially to populations that have had their right to vote suppressed.” 


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