Registered voters few, ballots cast even fewer among 75 Waterman addresses

As of Friday, 677 Brown students were registered to vote in Rhode Island using their 75 Waterman St. campus box addresses, according to the Office of the Secretary of State.

Though not entirely a reflection of the number of Brown students registered to vote in the Ocean State – students can just as easily register at an off-campus address, their residence hall or home address – that figure is still less than 12 percent of the total number of undergraduate students enrolled at the College and an even smaller percentage of the total students enrolled at the University.

Currently, students registered at 75 Waterman St. represent over half of the 1,314 voters in Ward 1′s precinct 2018, which includes a handful of addresses on Waterman, Thayer and Thomas streets.

Ward 1 is the first of 15 wards in the city of Providence and comprises seven precincts. As of last week, there were 3,744 registered Democrats, 598 registered Republicans and 2,882 unaffiliated voters in Ward 1.

Fifty-nine Democratic ballots and nine Republican ballots were cast in the Sept. 12 primary by voters from precinct 2018. Voter turnout for the primary was lower in precinct 2018 than in all other Ward 1 precincts.

A total of 1,404 Ward 1 voters cast ballots in the primary, with 1,108 voting in the Democratic primary and 287 voting in the Republican primary. Because a coordinated, statewide voter roll and history were not implemented by the secretary of state’s office until 2004, there are no records of voter turnout and statistics from elections in Rhode Island before that year.

According to Rhode Island state law, citizens must be registered 30 days prior to an election in order to be eligible to vote in that election. As such, students who registered to vote in Rhode Island after Oct. 8 are not able to vote in the upcoming statewide elections.

The Brown Democrats registered between 500 and 600 new voters on campus during this election cycle, according to Dems President Tor Tarantola ’08. The Dems reached students by manning a table on the Main Green all day, every day for the week leading up to the Oct. 8 registration deadline to qualify to vote in the election.

Though students “can register with whatever party they like” and the Dems do not keep track of students’ affiliations, Torantola said registering Brown students to vote probably is not going to hurt the Dems.

“I would assume most of them are registered Democrat,” Tarantola said. “Every prediction says that the Democrats can take back the Senate, but they need to win in Rhode Island. … People here recognize that, and that’s why they’re registering to vote in Rhode Island.”

He added, “I expect a very high turnout (in this election) because Brown students are intelligent, knowledgeable and informed, and they realize how important this upcoming election is.”

Tarantola believes students know that registering here, or switching their registration from home to Rhode Island, matters. “A lot of students are very involved in the local races,” he said.

The only Republican registering voters on campus this fall was from Washington, D.C. Angie Poole, a representative from the College Republicans National Committee, registered voters and drafted volunteers for local campaigns, according to Zack Drew ’07, president of the College Republicans.

The College Republicans have specifically chosen not to register voters on the University’s campus or in Rhode Island, Drew said.

Registering voters “is not something we focus on,” Drew said. “We know we would just be registering Democrats, so who cares? Registering Republicans is a losing battle and a serious waste of time.”

Brown students helped Ward 1 City Council candidate Seth Yurdin register voters both before and after he won the Democratic primary. However, Yurdin’s voter registration efforts were “more neighborhood-based,” he said. “There are a large number of people in the neighborhood that are voters but aren’t registered here,” he said, adding that “it was pretty easy to get them registered.”

Yurdin did not have any predictions about voter turnout in the upcoming election, though he said the Ward 1 residents his campaign registered “certainly seem like they’re likely voters.”

Ethan Ris ’05, who challenged Yurdin in the Democratic primary, disagreed, saying, “You can register new voters, but they’re very difficult to get to the polls. … The ones who vote are generally those who register on their own.”

Ris said because of this, voter registration “was one of those things I would have liked to do but didn’t have time for.”

Students on and off campus have worked with the Rhode Island Right to Vote campaign in support of Ballot Question 2, which would allow people out of prison, on probation or on parole the right to vote.

Question 2 will “restore the right to vote to 15,000 Rhode Islanders who are unfairly kept from the voting booth,” said Nancy Kirsch, deputy campaign manager for RI Right to Vote.

“Voting is absolutely a critical part of someone’s citizenship and a critical way to be a part of the democracy,” Kirsch said. “In a full democracy, every voice counts and every voice is heard.”

Numerous community organizations have undertaken major get-out-the-vote campaigns throughout Providence.

The Rhode Island Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now has registered over 9,000 new voters in Providence’s Olneyville, Elmwood, South Providence and Washington Park neighborhoods, said Amy Olin, head organizer of Rhode Island ACORN. An ACORN representative was also soliciting student voter registration on campus earlier this fall.

“Our organization has a membership of low- and moderate-income families that work on issues like quality health care and quality public schools,” Olin said.

Brown student voters played a major role in the 2002 Ward 1 City Council election, helping current Ward 1 City Councilman David Segal to victory in a tight four-way primary race.

Segal said he has never kept track of the number of Brown students his campaign registers to vote. He suggested the voter roll has been cleared out since the 2002 election, in which Brown student voters played such a pivotal role for him, since any voter who has not voted in four years is eligible to be kicked off the voter roll.

“It seems like a lot more (students vote) when it’s a presidential (election), which is weird, because it doesn’t really matter in Rhode Island,” Segal said, though he acknowledged that voter turnout is higher in presidential election years throughout the country.