High turnout on Election Day
Slow voting process doesn’t turn away students
Students displayed their interest in politics and resilience as they battled the long lines outside the UM Convocation Center to vote on Election Day Tuesday.
According to the unofficial results posted at the Miami-Dade Elections Department website on Wednesday, of the 1,737 registered voters in the Convocation Center (precinct 640), 1,078 voted – a 62.06 percent turnout. Of those votes, 710 (65.86 percent) went to Sen. John Kerry and 355 (32.93 percent) went to President George W. Bush, who declared victory on Wednesday.
It was the first time the Convocation Center served as a polling site.
“We strongly felt that the University of Miami should have a polling place that was more accessible to students, on campus,” Dr. Pat Whitely, vice president of Student Affairs, said. “The University petitioned for it to happen.”
Whitely admitted that there were long lines that were moving slower than anticipated.
“President Shalala had gotten about 20 pizzas to hand out to the students, and they were really, really happy about that,” Whitely said.
As students stood in line, they were divided on whom they had voted for in the presidential race.
“I think Bush’s the one that’s going to protect us the best,” Tony Martinez, freshman, said. “He’s decisive.”
Lauren Pedic, freshman, disagreed.
“I don’t agree with Bush’s plan, acting as global police,” Pedic said. “That’s wrong.”
Shaena Langley, junior, missed a class to vote for Kerry.
“My whole family is Republican,” Langley said. “They support my right to have my own opinion, but I haven’t talked to my dad about it much.”
Many students stood in line for several hours. They criticized the slow process and the fact that there were five machines at the polling site.
“It was terrible, absolutely terrible,” said Hannah Deletto, sophomore, who voted for Bush. “I was in line for three hours and 15 minutes, but it was worth it. I missed two classes, and if my professors have a problem, I don’t care.”
“I kept telling myself I was in line for a club, where no one would mind waiting,” said Jendayi Muntu, junior, who arrived at the Convocation Center at 7:15 a.m. and waited two-and-a-half hours to vote for Kerry. “There should be no work on Election Day to encourage voting.”
According to Gilbert Arias, assistant vice president of Student Affairs, upon seeing the long lines at 1:30 p.m., the University requested extra voting machines but was unable to get any because they had all been allocated to other precincts. The Department did deliver more paper ballots at the University’s request to speed up the voting process once voters entered the Convocation Center.
Despite the lines, Arias said the students were willing to wait.
“It was very positive, and they weren’t leaving,” he said.
Students were still waiting outside the Convocation Center after 8 p.m., when polling sites were scheduled to close. Arias said that when he left the site at 11:30 p.m., there were still 150 students waiting to vote. The site remained open until after midnight.
SHALALA TAKES ACTION
University President Donna E. Shalala sent Constance Kaplan, supervisor of elections of the Miami-Dade Elections Department, a letter regarding the problems at the Convocation Center yesterday. Shalala wrote to file a formal complaint of inadequate provision of voting equipment and staffing at the polling site.
“It was widely publicized that our students had registered by the hundreds for this election,” Shalala said. “The registration numbers were generated by and available to your office well before Election Day.
Shalala criticized the Department’s “lack of flexibility and inability to adjust” to the circumstances at the Convocation Center.
“We repeatedly telephoned and asked for more machines, but were rebuffed by polite workers who seemed less than anxious by this situation,” she said.
Shalala also praised the students and neighbors that missed classes and jobs to vote in the letter.
“If they had been elderly voters without much endurance, they would have been disenfranchised,” Shalala said.
Finally, Shalala requested that Kaplan meet with student leaders at UM to ensure adequate preparation for the next election.
Once the polls closed, students gathered for free pizza, fried chicken and cookies at the Election Celebration in the UC Lower Lounge to watch the election returns.
“It’s a good place for students to get together after everyone’s been involved in the campaign to watch the results,” Daniel L. Westbrook, director of the University Center, said. “It’s a natural follow up to the debate watch party.”
Students discussed the election as news outlets began calling states based on their projections.
“I’ve gotten to eat, I brought books, I have a vantage point of different TV channels and I get to discuss with my peers,” said Alex Ortiz, senior, who was wearing a T-shirt that read “One-term President” and watching both CNN and MSNBC.
“I’m rioting if Bush wins,” Bethany Quinn, sophomore, said.
Some students attended the celebration but did not vote.
“There was a five-hour line wrapped around the Convocation Center in the hot sun,” said Donald Matsuura, sophomore, who didn’t know whom he would have voted for. “I would have eeny-meany-miney-moed it.”
Patricia Mazzei can be contacted at email@example.com.