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Students turn out to vote in record numbers

by Karen A. Grava - November 10, 2008

One of President Michael Hogan’s First Year Experience students rushed into class late Nov. 4. He explained that he had been working the polls at the Mansfield Community Center, where students were waiting up to three hours in line to vote.

After class, Hogan went to the Community Center, where the line snaked out onto the sidewalk and students were starting to get cold as it grew dark.

Then he went to speak with Mansfield Mayor Betsy Paterson, who was also concerned about the long wait for voters. Eventually, another line was created, to keep people moving, at least during the last one and half hours until the polls closed at 8 p.m.

The precinct is dominated by UConn students, faculty, and staff, and this year, there was a 40 percent increase in voters there, according to Jeffrey Czerwiec, an organizer for the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (ConnPIRG).

“It was great to see the president out there talking with students who braved the long lines,” he said. “He provided a little bit of encouragement.”

The election captured the interest of students, Czerwiec said, and this year’s voter registration drive netted 3,608 students, about 22 percent of the undergraduate population.

“This is such an incredible accomplishment when compared to previous years. In 2006, 1,642 students were registered, and in 2004, 2,200.”

The voter registration drive was highly successful, with more than 5,200 voting in Mansfield Precinct One, compared with just over 3,700 in 2004.

Czerwiec credits the success of the program to ConnPIRG’s ability to talk with students in “dorm storms.” The residence hall visits were allowed under a new policy on canvassing adopted by Residential Life in response to queries from ConnPIRG and others.

The policy allowed students to canvass other students, provided they registered with Residential Life three days in advance. This enabled students to talk one-on-one about voting, while also protecting the safety of the students in the residence halls.

About 1,800 of the students who voted this year used shuttles organized by UConn Votes that picked them up at five different spots on campus. Others made their own way to the polls.

Hartford Courant sports columnist Jeff Jacobs noted that UConn athletes were among the students excited about the election. One basketball player, Jonathan Mandeldove, told Jacobs, “I want to tell my children one day that I was part of history. And I want them to tell their children. I felt proud today. I felt honored. We are the difference-makers. It’s in our hands.”

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