Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Student voter turnout ‘abysmal’

Despite a four-year congressional majority in peril and a toss-up U.S. Senate race, midterm turnout among Northwestern students was “abysmal and embarrassing,” Republican election judge Sherryanne Robinson said Tuesday evening.

She was stationed at Patten Gymnasium, one of three voting locations across campus, including Parkes Hall and Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. The more than 70 voters at Robinson’s facility – or less than 6 percent of the precinct’s nearly 1,300 registered constituents – recognized a similar trend among their peers.

“There really wasn’t much interest around today and in my classes,” McCormick freshman Alex Chandel said. “There’s not much excitement. I got in front of a class and shouted, ‘Who’s voting?’ and they were like, ‘Yeah, sure.'”

Although the Democrat plurality hung in the balance, many students were not concerned about the midterm elections, Medill junior Fenit Nirappil said.

“I even printed out registration forms for my friends, but they didn’t fill them in,” Nirappil said.

On the contrary, Evanston residents expressed “high interest” in the midterm races, contributing to a nearly 40 percent turnout rate at Seabury-Western, said John Welch, the site’s equipment manager.

“If I were to speculate, intense ‘get out the vote’ efforts have affected turnout,” he said.

Weinberg senior Emily Grodinsky, who said she voted because she was “worried about the direction of the country,” witnessed a nearly vacant room at Parkes Hall on Tuesday afternoon.

“When I was there, it was almost empty inside, which was kind of sad,” she said.

The signs of student non-participation were further evident as the polls approached their 7 p.m. closing times. At 5:45 p.m, Patten judges had begun disassembling the four touch-screen machines and 12 paper ballot booths lining the gymnasium lobby. Throngs of departing athletes flowed by, and one jokingly asked, “Who’s winning?”

Weinberg sophomore Alice Jeon said she expected more students to vote given the convenience of having three polling stations on campus. Jeon said she had to drive to an off-campus location during elections last year.

“Having the polling places right on campus is a definite improvement because of the accessibility, and I’m definitely a lot happier about that,” she said. “Since it’s right here, I thought a lot of kids would be voting, but I guess not.”

Students may have been more engaged if it were a presidential race, Democratic election judge Charles Jefferson said. “I just feel like most of the students that are registered to vote here may not be from Illinois, so they won’t be as engaged as they would be if this were a presidential election.”

Judges were especially surprised at low attendance given the political stakes. Robinson said voters were faced with an “interesting ballot” – one that included a referendum on the state constitution to recall governors by special election and a tight Senate contest between Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk.

Evanston resident Ed Kelly echoed this unusual importance, explaining that he was driven to vote after the scandal surrounding former Gov. Rod Blagojevich cast Illinois politics in a negative light.

“Look at our history,” Kelly said. “Look at what we just got rid of. We’re a laughingstock.”

But the students who did vote cited different motivations than those of Kelly. First-time voter Julia Coppelman, who was encouraged by “very politically active parents,” said she nonetheless understood the lack of civic involvement among her classmates.

“I know a lot of people are voting in their states,” the Weinberg freshman said. “And I know a lot of people are just lazy.”

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Student voter turnout ‘abysmal’