Students who have registered to vote under a University of Richmond address can vote on campus at the Jepson Alumni Center between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Election Day this year, a move that allows students without cars to vote more easily.
In 2016, 50.4 percent of UR students voted in the Virginia gubernatorial election, done by the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education. This number is consistent with the national average for institutions that participated in the survey.
The introduction of an on-campus polling station comes amid increased concerns about voter suppression on college campuses nationwide. In July, a federal judge Florida’s ban on early voting on college and university campuses unconstitutional and a "lopsided" burden for students. Voting rights activists also Texas officials reopen early voting at Texas State University and establish a voting site on campus, threatening a lawsuit.
Shannon Kane, a senior and former president of UR College Democrats, came up with the idea of the on-campus polling station last year.
The university historically provided transportation to and from the old polling place, St. James Armenian Church, which is about one mile away from campus but is difficult to walk to. However, Kane said she had heard from students who had had difficulty finding time to take the campus shuttle, especially in between classes.
For last year’s election, the College Democrats arranged for student drivers to give students rides back and forth to vote throughout the day, taking about 400 people to the polling place, Kane said.
“We realized that this might not always work,” Kane said. “We might not have people that have cars or that can drive.”
She proposed opening a new polling location on campus last year, reaching out to the school administration, City of Richmond Councilman Andreas Addison and the city’s general registrar, Kirk Showalter.
“I think the administration as a whole was supportive of kids voting, but they didn’t necessarily see the need for a polling precinct on campus,” Kane said, although she noted it eventually came around to the proposal.
The next challenge was finding a location that worked for both the university and the city and state requirements. Kane originally suggested having the polling place at the basketball court in Robins Stadium, but university administration raised concerns that it could conflict with timing of sports events and games.
“There were issues involved that I had certainly never considered,” said Julie Laskaris, the faculty adviser for College Democrats, who attended a few meetings about the polling place. “You don’t think about the fact that there are many many more elections than just the ones in November, and that can come up — somebody decides to quit office, or, you know, resigns or dies — and all of a sudden you need to have an election.”
The Jepson Alumni Center was picked because it fit city requirements for a polling place, such as having sufficient parking and disability accommodations. However, it is farther from many of the academic buildings where students take classes.
Members of the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement and the advocacy group NextGen America are planning to promote the presence of the polling place more this coming week. The CCE has advertised through SpiderBytes and digital flyers. It will also have a table on Election Day giving out candy and stickers to students who voted, said Sasha Hollister, the program manager of community relationships at UR Downtown. NextGen will also have volunteers encouraging students to vote on Election Day.
University Police Chief Dave McCoy said the main impact he expected to see with the polling place, which has been operational since the primary elections in June, was in parking, because other people in the precinct will need to go to the Jepson Alumni Center to vote as well.
“We’re going to work with the election officials on political advertising,” McCoy said. “We’re going to have some limitations, trying to keep it tight around the polling location of the Jepson Alumni Center and not all over campus.”
NextGen and the CCE have also been getting students registered to vote on campus. In light of past issues with voter registration, both have worked with the city registrar to make sure their volunteers and student coordinators show students how to fill out their voter registration forms accurately.
NextGen has registered over 400 students since the beginning of 2018, and the CCE registered 13 during its one or two days tabling in the Tyler Haynes Commons. These numbers do not include students who are already registered or registered on their own, either in Virginia or in their home state. These numbers are fairly consistent with how many they registered last year, which Nick Adjami, the NextGen organizer for UR, said may have been because last year’s state elections were also important.
Contact senior news writer Kay Dervishi firstname.lastname@example.org.