The cricket chirps were especially loud outside Precinct 5 tonight. The Patterson Community Center along Crest Street was nearly empty except for the occasional passing car or student voter walking up to cast a ballot. Among the visitors were Duke Professor Gunther Peck and Democratic U.S. Rep John Sarbanes of Maryland.
Longtime friends and former college roommates, they are avid promoters of voter rights. They dropped by the voting station to check on Duke University student voter turnout.
In the recent past, Duke students could vote at early voting sites on Duke’s campus. Like others, Peck, who is director of Duke’s Hart Leadership Program, and Sarbanes say loss of voting on a college campus can be a barrier to student turnout. Peck was a catalyst for Duke’s decision this year to provide free Lyft rides to get students who live on West Campus to Patterson, their assigning voting spot. He’s one to do anything he can to get people to vote.
“It ought to be as easy as possible. The fact that you don’t have a car shouldn’t be the reason you don’t vote,” Peck said.
This belief is what motivated Peck and Sarbanes to stand on the sidewalk outside of the precinct and ask students about their Lyft and voting experience. Sarbanes is sponsor of “For the People Act of 2019,” a bill that passed the House but has been blocked by Senate Republicans. The bill would make Election Day a federal holiday and require more political organizations to disclose the names of donors.
“Ideally voting is and can be the most empowering thing you do as a citizen,” said Sarbanes.
A total of 230 ballots were cast at Precinct 5 before it closed at 7:30 pm. Larry Partee, chief judge for Precinct 5, said that this was about a fourfold increase from primary voter turnout.
He noted a large number of those votes were cast by Duke students, a fact facilitated by advocates like Peck.
“We’ve seen a lot of elections that turned on just a few votes at all levels, so the notion that every vote counts is just a part of our DNA,” said Sarbanes.