Elm City library sees massive student turnout in Ward 1

At 10:30 am on Tuesday, Brian Bills ’11 stood at one corner of Old Campus. Cold and dripping wet, he held a sign that read “Vote, or GO TO HARVARD.”

“It’s Super Tuesday, folks!” Bills bellowed to students that passed by. “Don’t forget to vote today!”

Two blocks away, New Haven Free Public Library — the polling place for Ward 1 residents, including students living on Old Campus — was “crunched,” the polling place’s assistant registrar Rachel Schiff ’10 said. Twenty members of the Yale College Democrats were lined up outside the library when the polls opened at 6 a.m., Schiff said, and congestion came in bursts throughout the day.

In Ward 1, 789 residents came out to the library to cast ballots on Tuesday. The Democratic election results came back overwhelmingly in favor of Illinois Senator Barack Obama — 552 voted for Obama, while 179 voted for Clinton — to the surprise of few, as the Yale undergraduate population seems to have been swept with Obama fever and his repeated promise of a “change we can believe in.” Although over 750 residents were successful in casting their ballots, about 60 would-be voters were turned away because they were not affiliated with a political party.

Three people voted for John Edwards, who removed himself from the race Jan. 30.

On the Republican side, there were 28 voters for John McCain, 16 for Mitt Romney, 8 for Ron Paul and 3 for Mike Huckabee.

Tuesday’s turnout at the Ward 1 polling place was the largest the library has seen in “three or four years,” polling place moderator Shawn Rigoulot said.

Though 789 Ward 1 residents voted at New Haven Free Public Library, about 60 were turned away, polling place assistant registrar Kate Kraft ’10 said. Many of these students were not allowed to vote because they were not registered under a political party affiliation or because they had changed their party affiliation less than 90 days before Tuesday’s primary, which is not permissible under Connecticut law.

Although Rigoulout said he estimated that 20 to 30 people were turned away for this reason, Kraft said she counted over 60 unaffiliated voters who were turned away from the polls.

Rigoulot said several Yale students showed up to the polls saying that other students registering them on campus told them they could switch party affiliation until the day before the primary election.

Yale College Democrats president Benjamin Shaffer ’09 said “it was [the Yale College Democrats’] understanding” that a New Haven voter could register for a political party up until the day before the primary election, as long as the voter was previously unaffiliated. They obtained this information, he said, from the Web site of Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, and conveyed the message to Yale students whom they registered to vote.

Berkeley College Dean Kevin Hicks and his wife were two of the voters turned away from the Ward 1 polling place because they were not registered under a political party, Kraft said.

Catherine Kastleman ’10 said she went to the Public Library at 2:30 p.m., when there were about 30 people in line. She saw several people turned away because they were not affiliated with a party or because they were registered for a different polling place, she said. The only reason she knew that Connecticut’s primary elections were closed-party, Kastleman said, was because her suitemates are actively involved in politics.

Schiff said the library also had a difficult time finding volunteers, many of whom did not know until Monday the polling station at which they were supposed to volunteer. Rigolout said this confusion amongst volunteers is typical, because some volunteers often back out of their commitments at the last minute, and remaining polling place workers have to scramble to cover all the polls.

From 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Clinton supporters displayed signs supporting their candidate just beyond the 75-foot perimeter of the New Haven Public Library.

“I haven’t been this passionate about a politician, ever,” said Alyssa Bernstein ’10, one of the Yale for Hillary students cheering outside the library.

“Where’s Obama?” they yelled in jest, referring to the fact that Obama supporters were not outside of the library.

The polling district for New Haven Free Public Library includes all Yale students living on Old Campus as well as residents of Silliman, Timothy Dwight, Calhoun, Berkeley, Trumbull, Branford and Saybrook colleges.

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