This week, for the first time ever, College of William and Mary students joined Williamsburg residents to cast their votes for president of the United States.
Eighty-one percent of all registered voters in Williamsburg actually voted on Election Day, according to Williamsburg Voter Registrar Winifred Sowder.
“It was a huge turnout,” Sowder said.
College students and Williamsburg residents eagerly waited outside the city’s two voting precincts. Voters stood in the rain to cast their ballots at the Williamsburg Community Building, the precinct in which most College students were registered, and lines sometimes stretched around the block and onto the street.
“We really didn’t have any problems at the polls,” Sowder said. “The only problem we had at all was in the beginning — we didn’t think about the ballots getting wet with voters being wet … But the election officials caught on and we started drying off voters before they got to vote.”
Fifteen booths were available to electronically process the paper ballots, which included spaces to vote for president, a Virginia senate seat and the congressman to Virginia’s first Congressional District, which includes Williamsburg. The system allowed for quick voting, yet still produced a paper trail to ensure proper reading of the ballots.
“The lines were moving very quickly,” Kyle Ogilvie ’11 said. “I waited for only 15 or 20 minutes.”
Voters eagerly displayed their voting stickers while exiting the polls. While candidate paraphernalia was forbidden within 40 feet of the building, both students and residents readily discussed their favorite candidates and pertinent issues.
“I voted for Obama,” Carrie Schroll ’10 said. “I think the country’s headed in a really bad direction — I think it’s time for a change.”
Chad Jones, a 10-year resident of Williamsburg, said he supported McCain.
“I think Obama’s going to win,” Jones said, “but I still voted for McCain anyway so that Obama’s policies aren’t fully implemented when he gets to office.”
Andy Rudd ’11 agreed.
“The last eight years have been so terrible. It’s been agreed by the general public that both candidates would bring a change,” Rudd said. “I didn’t want Obama to win by such a large margin where he felt that he had a mandate.”
This was the first presidential election in which College students were allowed to register using their Williamsburg addresses. While this appeared to have no effect on the outcome of the presidential election — officials agree that the expanding suburbs outside of the District of Columbia were the main drive behind Virginia turning blue — many students were glad to be able to vote in Williamsburg.
“It’s my duty as a citizen,” Rudd said. “I’ve been voting since I’ve been eligible.”
“I think it’s wonderful that students should be able to vote [in Williamsburg],” Mary Grogan, an Obama supporter and resident of Skipwith Farms, said.
Williamsburg resident William Chronis, a retired engineer who would not disclose his presidential candidate choice, disagreed.
“The way I was raised, students voted absentee. Why can’t they vote absentee to represent their permanent home?” Chronis said. “I don’t mind for the presidential election, because it doesn’t affect the outcome, but our local elections don’t affect them unless they choose to stay here after they graduate.”
Bill Day, the Democratic candidate for Congress in Virginia’s first district, spent the day traveling between polls, introducing himself and discussing issues while voters waited in lines.
“I voted for Obama, Warner and a handsome guy named Bill Day,” Day said jokingly. “I care deeply about change because the last eight years have to be turned around … And I think it’s a great idea for students to be voting in Williamsburg.”
With the support of many Williamsburg residents, as well as various student organizations encouraging and shuttling students to and from the polls, the eligible cast their ballots and turned Virginia blue for the first time since 1964.
“Statewide, [student votes] really helped to carry the state for Obama. That’s basically how I think it helped the Democrat[ic] party more than the Republicans, of course,” Sowder said. “But it’s good to see the young people out there voting.”