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Duke Area Voter Turnout High As Locals Show Their Political Colors

This story was written by Ryan Brown, The Duke Chronicle

It had been a long time since George Glover can remember feeling this excited about an election.

In fact, it has been 48 years.

When he cast his ballot for John F. Kennedy in 1960, Glover said he felt like the political paradigm was shifting in Washington. And this year, the candidacy of President-elect Barack Obama gives him the same idea.

"The man just amazes me," he said. "But I don't want to get too enthused. I'm 71 and I've seen a lot of disappointing times."

Glover was among the approximately 136,000 Durham voters who cast their votes around the city today, rounding out a whirlwind presidential race that began nearly two years ago.

But as a drizzle fell on the Triangle for much of Election Day, the polls were noticeably quiet. Forty-two percent of North Carolina's registered voters had already cast their ballots through either absentee or early voting, reducing the number of voters at the polls yesterday.

Overall, Durham County had a 70 percent voter turnout this election, and the state had a 68 percent rate, according to the Durham and North Carolina State Boards of Elections. Durham, a historically liberal county, went overwhelmingly for Obama, with 75 percent voting for the Democratic president-elect.

Around noon, election volunteers outnumbered voters at both George Watts Elementary School and W.I. Patterson Recreation Center, the two voting sites for Duke students registered to vote at a campus address. Kate Dowd, a volunteer stationed outside Patterson, shivered as she clutched a pile of soggy fliers explaining the Democratic party's positions on several ballot issues. But she said that despite the weather and the low turnout at the precinct, she was thrilled to be a part of the election in Durham.

So thrilled, as it happens, that she put her life at home in Connecticut on hold for a few days to volunteer for the Obama campaign in North Carolina in the week leading up to the election. During the day, she canvassed in Durham and each night before she fell asleep on a friend's couch, she made calls to undecided voters in Colorado, another swing state.

"There's a lot of energy here," she said. "A lot more than in a state that will obviously go one way."

That energy was echoed by voters and campaign workers across Durham, several of whom said an excited mood permeated the polls.

"I've seen a lot of first-time voters," said Sia Henry, a Duke University sophomore who volunteered her day to check-in voters at the Patterson polling station. "And they're definitely not just young people."

Last month, Glover said he drove an 85-year-old man to the polls. When they arrived, the man confessed that he had never voted before.

But not every voter felt that this election was particularly important. Dante Lunsford, a Durham resident who cast his ballot at Watts Elementary Tuesday morning, said that no matter which party took the White House Tuesday, he expected "business as usual" in Washington come January.

"I'm not excited, but I vote because I feel obligated," he said.

Obama's race looms large in the minds of many other Durham voters. But Durham resident Ava Alston-Brownlee said Obama is more than an African-American candidate.

"He's really diverse himself," she said. "He's not just black. I mean, he was in the womb of a white woman."

Although early voting on campus meant many Duke students had already voted before Election Day, several also braved the rain to cast their ballots Tuesday. Inside the Watts gym, clusters of voters in Duke sweatshirts appeared throughout the day, eliciting cheers of "first-time voter!" from electon volunteers.

Freshman Bridget Nolan said she decided to vote in North Carolina instead of her home state of New Jersey after receiving a helpful piece of advice.

"A man in the Marketplace said North Carolina was a swing state and my vote was more important here," she said as she arrived at the Watts Elementary polling site about an hour before the polls closed.

Another freshman, Jesse Heldrich, said her reasoning for skipping out on early voting or an absentee ballot from her home in Atlanta was simple.

"I wanted to be a part of it all and vote on Election Day," she said.

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