After a year of planning and more than $25,000, a new on-campus voting precinct was opened at the Convocation Center. Over 1,000 voters showed up for the site’s first election: Tuesday’s presidential primaries.
1,076 voters showed up to Convo, the third-highest turnout among all precincts in Harrisonburg.
The new precinct was spearheaded by the efforts of Joshua Humphries, a JMU alumnus who graduated in December with a degree in political science. Humphries noticed the inefficiency of the distance that students had to travel in order to vote. The process involved coordination between Humphries, the JMU administration, Harrisonburg’s Electoral Board and the city council.
The voter total exceeded Humphries’ expectations.
“The biggest overarching issue is that we have a crisis in this country, where millennial engagement is at a very low level,” Humphries said. “And we’re trying our best at JMU through a lot of different ways to combat that with our engaged university initiatives. Students are an important constituency and it’s important they have their voice heard like everybody else.”
When it was all said and done across the state, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary with 64.3 percent of the vote, and Donald Trump won the Republican primary with 34.8 percent of the vote. However, among voters in Harrisonburg, Bernie Sanders won on the Democratic side with 66.1 percent of the vote, while Marco Rubio won among Republicans with 39.5 percent of the vote.
Students registered to vote with an on campus address were eligible to vote at Convo. Quinn Bergeron, a senior accounting major, recognized the simple process involved in his voting experience. He also noticed there was a considerably higher amount of people there than he expected.
“More people should do it,” Bergeron said. “It’s a really important process, which is too easy not to do.”
Rob Alexander, a political science professor, acted as an officer of elections for the voting at Convo. He noticed a steady stream of voters all day and that there were a number of first-time voters.
“It seems as if it’s not too lopsided,” Alexander said, noticing there wasn’t a big difference in voter turnout between the Democratic and Republican primaries. He mentioned that Virginia’s open primary doesn’t require party registration prior to voting.
Gaby Rios, a junior health sciences major and first-time voter, believed the on-campus voting precinct allowed for a higher number of student voters.
“I love how I was able to be a part of the election process,” Rios said. “Being able to go to a polling precinct and go through the whole process was fun and exhilarating because my vote was counted.”
Carter Black, president of JMU’s College Democrats club, recognized the efforts made by campus organizations to register and mobilize voters. The initial number of eligible people registered to vote at the Convocation Center was 37, and when Black got back from winter break, she aimed to increase that number to 1,000. They ended up registering 2,087 students to vote. She attributed much of the success to the manpower involved.
“We’ve been headlining everything under Harrisonburg Votes or Duke Votes to try to stay nonpartisan,” Black said. “We have people from College Republicans in on the effort, Virginia21 and other civic engagement organizations.”
To raise the registration numbers, members of these organizations provided many classrooms with registration forms and guided students step by step to ensure accuracy. It was an initiative that they will look to repeat.
“The voter registration has never been done in this quantity before,”Black said. “This was unprecedented. We’re hoping to match that for the future.”
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