Wisconsin Students Bring Big Poll Turnout

This story was written by Cara Harshman, Badger Herald
A group of University of Wisconsin College Democrats huddled around a small heater that inadequately warmed their tent on Library Mall as they coordinated volunteer efforts during Tuesday's presidential primaries.

Members came and went as leaders frantically directed them to polling places around the city to help facilitate the voting process and keep voters waiting in line patient by distributing small candies costing less than a dollar.

Arctic temperatures and ice-covered sidewalks certainly did not keep people from the polls Tuesday -- they came in masses, said College Democrats Chair Oliver Kiefer.

"I'm pretty sure my whole floor has come through," said Witte Hall resident Abrianna Barca, a UW freshman and member of the College Democrats.

Barca was stationed at the Gordon Commons polling place as a poll watcher. Sitting next to the voter registration tables, Barca said she was there to make sure every student was able to vote and if one was turned away to figure out why. Her presence had nothing to do with supporting Democrats, she said.

"It is so important for students to vote because we are coming into the age where politics will really affect our lives," she added.

The College Democrats stationed poll watchers at every ward around the city where students vote.

Adam Young, chief inspector for polling places in the 45th ward, worked the poll at Gordon Commons. He said the voting process was smooth, but "it would have been fine if people would register beforehand."

Young said he is all for registering at the polls, "but it is a real big burden when 90 percent of the people come in unregistered."

If pre-registered voters came in Young moved them to the front of the ballot line.

Over the 24 years Young has worked as a poll worker, he said Tuesday's turnout was one of the greatest he has seen.

"Obviously the candidates targeted youth," Young said. "Obama especially made a really strong presence on campus."

The voter registration line at Lowell Hall was never in a lull, as new voters kept on coming. The conversation in the line was small but friendly, said Elaine DeSmidt, a Lowell poll worker and Dane County supervisor for District 3.

"People in line are willing to help each other, vouching to verify addresses, but there is no chatting about candidates," DeSmidt said. "People are respectful of others' business."

Young said a city official conducting the polling place accessibility survey stopped by Gordon Commons and examined door handles and handicapped parking spots.

But according to Young, the real problem with accessibility was the treacherous, icy sidewalks all around Gordon Commons.

"If the city and the university are really concerned with accessibility, why aren't they clearing their sidewalks?" he asked, adding for a person in a wheelchair, just getting to a polling place is a problem.

Gordon Commons and Lowell Center polling places were equipped with AutoMARK, a machine that lets visually impaired people vote independently. According to Matt Zimmerman, chief inspector for the Lowell Center polling place, no one used the AutoMARK as of 5 p.m., but in past elections it has been used.

After the 8-hour workday during which the polls are open, the poll workers' day is still not over.

Workers clean up the poll room and go through every ballot, checking for write-in names, or what Young called "Mickey-Mouse votes."

"Why would you waste your vote like that?" he asked.

Back at the College Democrats' tent at Library Mall, Awais Khaleel, vice president of College Democrats of America stopped by to see how the night was going and what he could do to help.

Khaleel is also a Democratic Party supedelegate, representing the youth voice of his party. At the political convention, superdelegates are free to vote for whichever candidate they want, free of primary results. In close primary elections, superdelegate votes can be the deciding factor for who wins the nomination.

In the past few weeks, Khaleel said he has been acting as a resource for the UW chairs of Students for Obama and Students for Hillary, "helping them on different levels and not stepping on their toes."

While waiting in line with her friends at the Lowell Center, Justine Newhouse, a UW senior and member of Tri-Delta sorority, summed up the reason for voting.

"You're supposed to have a voice. If I don't agree with the choice that's made in the end, at least I know I did my part," she said.
© 2008 Badger Herald via U-WIRE
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