Many precincts across Rhode Island saw higher than expected voter turnout this past Election Day. But at Precinct 3205, the Bradford R. Boss Arena at the University of Rhode Island, turnout was just under 12 percent.
With 1,710 registered voters this election, the polling location saw only 140 ballots cast. Although the numbers show a great deal of stochasticity, the low turnout trend is not unusual for the Boss Arena polling location. In the March 4, 2008 Presidential Preference, the location had 8,486 registered voters, 2,304 of which cast a ballot at Boss, just over 27 percent. On the other side of the coin, for the Primary election held September 9, 2008, the precinct had 2,013 registered voters. Only 16 of them cast a ballot, placing turnout at barely 1 percent. Even the last Presidential election, held November 4, 2008, showed 1,845 registered voters, with 260 ballots cast, just a 14 percent turnout. Election statistics are available to the public online at the RI Board of Elections' website.
So why are there such large inconsistencies in the numbers? According to South Kingstown Town Clerk Dale Holberton, the amount of registered voters at the Boss Arena is inflated "quite a bit". A voter cannot be removed from registration unless he or she has been inactive for two Federal elections, or changes his or her address. "Students register to vote when they go to school [at URI] and then they leave. Wherever they go to they don't cancel their registration here and when they re-register, we're unable to remove them unless they register somewhere else in Rhode Island," said Holberton.
To combat this statistic, the Rhode Island Secretary of State has previously attempted to pass legislature that would require colleges upon graduation to give a list of graduates to the Board of Elections or Secretary of State so they could send letters out to those students. Such a policy would help by allowing the board of elections to get some indication as to how many students were staying in Rhode Island. "But that never passed state legistature," according to Holberton.
At the University of Rhode Island, student and South Kingstown resident Lauren Cocci is registered to vote at the Bradford Boss Arena, but did not vote on Tuesday out of choice. "I'm frustrated with politics now as a whole. It's always the same thing from the same candidates, with no difference," she said.
Zach Burkett and Jared Sneesby, both freshman from Pawtucket and East Providence, did not vote this past Tuesday as well, either by visiting a polling location or obtaining an absentee ballot. The two students are not alone, as many students with whom this author spoke did not vote this election. When asked what percentage of their friends voted to the extent they are aware, Burkett responded "maybe five percent, very little." When asked why, "It's more about convenience, if they don't have the absentee ballot, they won't go home to vote." the pair agreed.