The Collegian
Saturday, June 15, 2024

UR students vote in record numbers at local polls

At 5:45 a.m., a line more than a block-and-a-half long snaked out of the Westhampton Baptist Church voting precinct where 2,200 voters were registered.

By 10:30 a.m., more than 30 percent of those voters had cast their ballots, said Richard Stone, chief officer of elections. Only 25 to 30 percent of voters registered in the precinct typically cast their votes, but this year, Stone said he expected a 90 percent turnout.

"That percentage has certainly risen because of students," he said. "This is an older precinct, so when students come in, we notice them and their vote makes a difference."

Members from University of Richmond Students for Barack Obama have enabled about 310 to 350 students to register in Virginia, said Darius Rasheed Nazeri, president of the group. About 60 percent of those students changed their registrations to Virginia while the rest were first-time registrants, he said.

The Center for Civic Engagement registered about 200 students in Virginia. University of Richmond Students for McCain registered 16 students in Virginia, making 566 the rough total of Richmond students registered in Virginia.

Virginia residents only make up about 15 percent of the student population at Richmond, totaling about 410 students. This means more than 100 students, at the least, are out-of-state residents voting in Virginia.

"I'm originally from Dallas, Texas," said senior Kate Simma. "I've spent more time in the past four years in Virginia, so I'm more of a resident here than Dallas, and I registered here."

Simma said her three apartment mates were also out-of-state residents, but were voting in Virginia today. Simma, along with other students, said they felt their vote would count more in Virginia. Because Virginia is a swing state, possibly the one being most closely watched today, these out-of-state voters could make a difference.

During the 2004 presidential election, there was an 8-percentage point difference in Virginia between Sen. John Kerry and President George W. Bush, with Bush winning the state. Obama would have to make up those 8 percentage points to win Virginia's 13 electoral votes.

"I think through polls -- and we've done a lot of analysis of election polls -- in battleground states, he'll [Obama] win," Simma said.

"Because California is pretty much a done deal, I registered in Virginia," said California resident and senior Nick Battle.

Battle, defensive lineman for the football team, said he only goes home "for Christmas, two weeks in the summer and spring break," and felt he was more a resident of Virginia. During the past weeks, the football team frequently talked about the election and presidential candidates, he said. Battle voted for Obama and sounded convinced he would win.

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"I'm curious how the rain is affecting voter turnout," said freshman Spach Trahan. She was a Vermont resident but said she registered in Virginia because she felt her vote counted more. Since September, Trahan has been working with UR Students for Barack Obama to help register voters.

Despite the rain, election officials around the state were claiming record voter turnout. And by 10 a.m., about 40 percent of registered Virginia voters had cast their ballots, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Dave Cosby, a Center for Civic Engagement employee and life-long Chesterfield resident, began driving students to the Westhampton Baptist Church and Tuckahoe Elementary School at 8 a.m. By 9:30 the two vans had taken more than 30 students to the polls, while many others drove themselves.

"If you waited in the rain, I'll do anything in my power to make sure your votes count," Stone said.

Lines remained short at Westhampton and Tuckahoe after 10 a.m. and the machines had not yet malfunctioned.

At the Pump Road voting precinct, however, voting machines failed this morning, forcing them to pull out the paper ballots early on in the day.

Students who register do not have to declare a party affiliation, according to Virginia state law. According to a survey conducted by The Collegian, 35.3 percent of the 293 students surveyed identified themselves as Democrats, 24.1 percent identified themselves as Republicans and 27.1 percent identified themselves as Independents. When the survey was conducted Sept. 30 to Oct. 7, 55.2 percent of students said they would vote for an Obama-Biden ticket while 28.3 percent said they would vote for Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin.

Fourteen and a half percent of the students surveyed were still undecided. Just more than a month later after waves of television and radio advertisements, rallies, student campaigning, and surprise visits -- including one from Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, who made a brief stop at Montrose Elementary School in eastern Henrico this morning -- those 14.5 percent could vote for either ticket, but a majority of Richmond students would still vote for Obama.

Richmond alumnus John Batte, 83, voted today across the street from Tuckahoe at Third Presbyterian Church, the Rollingwood precinct polling place.

"I've never failed to vote," he said. "That's the most important thing you can do in this great society we live in.

"I voted for McCain. I have serious doubts as to whether he's going to win because I believe in numbers and I think Obama has the numbers."

According to the Washington Post/ABC News tracking poll today, Obama could win the election by 9 percentage points, taking 52 percent of the votes compared to 44 percent going to McCain.

"To me it feels like the Super Bowl," Trahan said. "I always root for the Patriots and assume they will win. But, every now and then, they don't, and that's how I feel right now [about Obama]."

Collegian Staff writer Stephanie Rice contributed reporting for this story.

Contact staff writer Megan Wilson at

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