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Columbia Missourian

Students optimistic their vote will impact election

By Amanda Woytus
November 4, 2008 | 9:16 p.m. CST
Sam Engemann, left, and Brad Thebeau receive instructions on how to fill out the election ballot at the Memorial Union on Tuesday. Students are expected to vote in record numbers with the chance to elect the first black president or the first female vice president in U.S. history.

COLUMBIA — At 6 a.m. on Election Day, polls across Columbia opened. The sky was still dark, but already students had come to cast their ballots at polling places such as Memorial Union and the Life Sciences Center, which draw mostly student voters.

Among the first to arrive early at Memorial Union was Aris Williams, 18, a freshman at MU. Williams came to vote early Tuesday morning because she knew it wouldn't be crowded and wanted to beat the lines. And at 6 a.m., there was no line in sight.

"I talked to my parents in St. Louis, and they said the lines are long there, but there is no one here," Williams said. "It just shows you how there is a difference between a college campus and your hometown."

Inside Memorial Union, a central polling location that draws a lot of student voters, Larry Wyatt II, the Republican supervisor for Central Polling Place IV, was circling the mostly empty Stotler Lounge, where the polling stations were set up.

By 6:30 a.m., only about 20 students had cast their ballots, Wyatt estimated.

"What we've been getting so far are student workers and students are who are volunteering for campaigns all day and won't be able to vote at any other time," he said.

Historically, people ages 18 to 24 haven't voted. According to U.S. Census data from the November 2004 election, only 49.9 percent of voters ages 18 to 24 in Missouri cast ballots, compared to 41.9 percent of people ages 18 to 24 in the United States overall who voted.

As reported in the Nov. 4, 2004, edition of the Missourian, of the 75,467 total presidential votes cast in Columbia during the November 2004 election, only 5,126 were cast at polling locations that were on, or close to, campus, such as Paquin Towers, Oak Towers, the MU Life Sciences Building/Alumni Center, Campus Lutheran Church, Reynolds Alumni Center and the MU Extension Office.

The secretary of state's office estimated that 76 percent of Missouri's 4,205,774 registered voters would visit the polls Tuesday. People ages 18 to 24 made up 12 percent of that number, said Laura Egerdal, director of communications for the secretary of state. Egerdal added that there is no "student" category for voters, but people in the 18 to 24 age category also account for 43 percent of Missouri's 342,000 new voters this year.

"In Boone County," she said, "nearly 70 percent of first-time voters, or 12,700 people, are between ages 18 to 24."

Students not only registered to vote but helped get out the vote as well. And they got involved in other ways, Egerdal said. By working with MU's Truman School of Public Affairs, the secretary of state's office recruited 1,500 
students to serve as poll workers on Election Day, "making sure every eligible voter is able to cast their 
ballot," she said. In Boone County, 346 students were expected to serve as poll workers
 on Election Day, Egerdal said.

Two hours after the polls opened, only 84 votes had been cast at Memorial Union. By 2 p.m., a serpentine line had formed across Stotler Lounge, with 523 ballots cast.

A larger crowd gathered to vote at the Life Sciences Center. By 7:15 a.m., 231 people had cast their ballots; by 10:15 a.m., 828 had voted.By 2 p.m., 1,600 had voted.

Glenda Moore, the poll supervisor at the Life Sciences Center, estimated that at least 95 percent of people who cast their ballots at that polling location were MU students.

"It's been so busy, for safety reasons, we're starting to monitor how many come in at a time, and letting them know that they will get in," Moore said.

Three MU students, Clint Alwahab, 20, a sophomore; Taylor Stottlemyre, 19, a freshman; and Darren Orf, 20, a sophomore, arrived at the Life Sciences Center at about 6:30 a.m. because they were afraid of long lines and wanted to get a free cup of coffee from Starbucks with their "I Voted" stickers.

All three students agreed that the presidential race was the most important in the election and were optimistic that many students would vote in the election.

"I'm banking on the student vote to affect the way Missouri goes today," Alwahab said.

Mary Still, the Democrat running for the 25th District state representative seat, also was counting on students to make a difference in the election. Still visited Campus Lutheran Church and the Life Sciences Center, meeting and greeting student voters before they entered the polling location.

Still said 3,000 new voters had registered for the election in the 25th District, and she expected a huge turnout.

"I think they will turn out, and they have been all day, here and at Campus Lutheran," she said.

A few days before the election, Missouri Republican Party spokeswoman Tina Hervey questioned whether youthful Obama supporters would take the time to vote.

"Eighteen- to 25-year-olds don't vote," Hervey said, noting that she thought a significant portion of Obama supporters fell into that category.

Obama campaign spokesman Justin Hamilton said the notion that younger voters wouldn't show up at the polls was misguided. He cited numbers released by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan on Oct. 27 that indicated that about 40 percent of newly registered voters in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas were between ages 18 and 24. The secretary of state's office reported that about 150,000 of the roughly 340,000 first-time registrants statewide fell into that category — more than double any other age group.

Amanda Gaines, 23, a senior at MU, voted at the Life Sciences Center early Tuesday morning.

Gaines said she was surprised at how many people were at the polls in the Life Sciences Center, and said she thought more students would vote than in previous elections.

"Obama has a lot of charisma and reached out to youth voters like no one has before," Gaines said.

Tina Casagrand, 18, a freshman at MU, sat across the lounge from Gaines. A volunteer for the Obama campaign, she was poll watching for the Memorial Union location.

Casagrand voted at Life Sciences shortly after 6 a.m., and the voting machine indicated she was the 98th paper ballot.

"It's good to see so many people early," Casagrand said. "I think it's an indication of how it will go today and the excitement of the election."

Missourian reporter Chad Day contributed to this report.