This story was written by Carrie Wasterlain, The Duke Chronicle
Despite having to endure a 30-minute line, Duke University senior Nurah Lawal was not complaining-she was just eager to cast her ballot.
She and more than 900 other voters swarmed to Duke's early voting poll Saturday, making sure to get their vote in before 5 p.m., when early voting officially ended in Durham. Mike Ashe, director of the Durham County Board of Elections, said Saturday was one of the busiest days at the polls, as expected.
Almost 10,000 ballots have been cast at Duke's one-stop site since early voting began Oct. 16, according to the Durham County Board of Elections Web site. Durham County officials voted to extend the early voting deadline from 1 p.m. Saturday to 5 p.m. There was a record turnout of early voting in Durham this year, with nearly 98,000 voters-more than twice the turnout in 2004 and nine times greater than the count in 2000, Ashe said.
He attributes the increase in early voters to boosted awareness, accurate information and pressure to vote from the candidates themselves.
"People are becoming more and more aware of early voting and are realizing that it's the same exact ballot as given on Election Day," he said. "The candidates were also urging everyone to come out early, which had a great impact."
Many in line Saturday-including a number of students and Duke employees-said they had waited until the last minute to take advantage of early voting simply because they had been too busy, whereas others were stalling to make candidate choices.
"I wanted to do more research so I could be confident about my decision," Lawal said.
Duke Hospital employee Connie Strayhorn, who commuted to Duke from Chapel Hill Saturday morning to cast her vote, explained that she was happy to wait in the long line for early voting instead of waiting in longer lines on Election Day.
"I'm just happy to get my vote in now. I work third shift at the Hospital, so this might be my last chance to vote, and I want make sure my vote counts," she said.
The move to bring a voting site to campus was initiated by Gunther Peck, associate professor of history and public policy studies. He told The Chronicle in September that of 3,000 registered Duke students, only a fraction voted in the May primary, and a one-stop registration and voting site could help motivate students to cast their ballots.
"[Duke's site] was a huge, wonderful success," Ashe said. "I'm very proud of the fact that all our sites, including Duke's, opened at the right time, had proper equipment and great staffing and had an absolutely record-setting number of voters."
The convenience of the early voting poll on Duke's West Campus this year contributed to voting excitement and turnout, students said. Though Lawal was confident that she would have voted regardless of whether or not the polls were at Duke, other students said they may not have turned up to vote if not for the site's proximity.
"I'm not sure I would have voted if I hadn't been able to do it on campus," senior Shazia Lutfeali said.
Staff members at Duke's voting site agreed that the location had been a success. The highest turnout was Oct. 31, with 1,138 voters turning up to the Old Trinity Room.
"Everyone's been talking about how easy and quick and wonderful it is to vote here. I'm so glad I got to be a part of it," said Gloria Bennett, a first-time early voting volunteer.