Strong Student Turnout Pushes Obama To A Sweeping Victory

This story was written by Cassie Bottge, The Diamondback
Students braved ice-slicked streets and long lines to vote in massive numbers on the campus of the University of Maryland Tuesday, propelling Sen. Barack Obama to a decisive victory in the precinct.

Voters showed in similar numbers to the similarly contentious 2006 gubernatorial race, with 623 ballots cast at the Stamp Student Union and 453 at Ritchie Coliseum. The student union turnout exceeded voting numbers in the 2004 primary, with nearly 13 times as many students voting this year.

"I'm really proud of the turnout not just on campus but across the country," Student Government Association President Andrew Friedson said. "It shows the 'get out the vote' efforts did an outstanding job."

The treacherous road conditions compelled a circuit court judge to extend voting for an hour and a half past the 8 p.m. deadline, allowing more than a dozen additional students to vote at the union.

News of the extended cut-off time struck a cord with senior English major Megan Lahman.

"It kills my stomach because I'm dying to know the results," said Lahman, a former Diamondback Diversions writer. "There were a lot of people coming out [in the state] despite the blizzard."

Student leaders chalked the high campus turnout up to appearances from Obama, Huckabee and Chelsea Clinton.

"Maryland really mattered this year and candidates took us seriously and campaigned here," Friedson said.

Obama (D - Ill.) swept three area primaries Tuesday and dominated the university's student vote. He captured more than 83 percent of the total votes in the Democratic primary, with Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) placing second with 17 percent. Sen. John McCain led the Republican race with 63 percent of the vote.

The Illinois senator scored massive victories throughout the region, with wins in Maryland, Virgina and Washington, pulling ahead to his largest lead in the race so far.

Despite the high turnout, officials said as many as a third of students were forced to cast provisional paper ballots or go home without voting because they were not registered in the district. Paper ballots only count in tight races.

"I couldn't vote because for some reason in 2004 I voted Green Party," said senior business and economics major Ambre Stanford. "My sister didn't know she could vote and she's 17. They didn't teach that in high school."

Republican Chief Judge Mike Thomley, who also worked Stamp's polling station in 2006, said he was impressed with the student turnout.

"At least a third were not aware that if they were not registered at home they couldn't vote here," he said.

Thomley said the day went smoother than elections two years ago, when electronic voting machines were plagued with glitches. Elections officials added 11 machines to the union polling place this year to prevent a repeat.

"It was better because we had 15 polls instead of four," Thomley said. "There were people here right at 7 [a.m.] to vote and it picked up and stayed steady."

Thomley said the longest wait time was 20 minutes and that there was a minor problem with one polling machine, but it was resolved after a regional election board member fixed the electronic glitch.

"With all the electronic stuff we didn't have any major problems," said Thomley.

Both Thomley and Friedson said the wait would have been shorter had there been more volunteers.

Volunteers from Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, a nonprofit organization, helped students who did not fully understand the election process. Volunteer Dan Buchner, a university alumnus, said the non-profit organization formed in response to the last presidential election.

"We're here to make sure if there is improper registration itall gets sorted out," said Buchner. "These students are going to make or break this election it seems."

Ken Pitts, Kurt Canfield and students from Professor Shaffrey's JOUR320 class contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Diamondback via U-WIRE