The results of a recent Herald poll and voting records from last week's election suggest that voter participation among Brown students has increased since 2004.
A total of 432 voters cast ballots at the Salomon Center polling place in last week's U.S. Senate contest between Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse and incumbent Republican Lincoln Chafee '75, up from 386 votes cast at that location in the 2004 presidential race. Salomon is the designated polling place for all residents of Ward 1 who live in Precinct 2818, which includes the 75 Waterman St. campus address with which many Brown students register to vote.
75 percent of undergraduate students are registered to vote, compared to 19.4 percent who are not registered to vote and 6 percent who are not U.S. citizens and are thus ineligible, according to a Herald poll conducted from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3. The poll has a 3.8 percent margin of error.
Of those students registered to vote, 24.9 percent said they are registered to vote in Rhode Island, while 74.9 percent said they are registered to vote in another state. A majority of 71.2 percent of students said they planned to vote in the Nov. 7 election, compared to 28.2 percent who said they did not plan to vote in the election.
Despite the high projected student voter turnout and overall increase in the number of ballots cast, the Salomon precinct's voter participation rate of just 29.4 percent was the second lowest of Ward 1's seven total precincts.
There were 1,470 voters registered in the Salomon precinct as of the Nov. 7 election, 677 of whom were registered at the 75 Waterman St. address.
Voter turnout at Salomon in the Sept. 12 primary was the lowest in the ward, with 68 total ballots cast in the precinct.
A total of 7,222 voters were registered in Ward 1 as of the Nov. 7 election. Average voter turnout for the ward as a whole was 39.4 percent, while statewide voter turnout was 56.3 percent, according to numbers provided by the Rhode Island Board of Elections.
"(The turnout last week) is pretty incredible for a non-presidential election year," Tor Tarantola '08, president of the Brown Democrats, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. The Dems conducted numerous on-campus voter registration, get-out-the-vote and voter information campaigns in the months preceding the election.
Members of the Dems said they registered almost 600 new voters on Brown's campus over the course of the 2006 election season and sent e-mails encouraging every registered Democrat and unaffiliated voter at Brown to head to the polls last week.
More than 300 people signed up through the Dems to knock on doors for Whitehouse's campaign and remind voters of their polling places, according to Tarantola.
Carly Rush '08, national politics chair for the Dems, attributed the increase in Salomon precinct votes in part to the national attention placed on the Rhode Island Senate race.
"We couldn't turn on the TV without seeing 10 ads for Whitehouse or Chafee," Rush said. "Everybody knew we had a close election in Rhode Island - they knew their vote was going to count."
"I'm very excited. ... Brown students played a big part in this momentous shift," Tarantola wrote, referring to the Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
Voter turnout for the Salomon precinct is not entirely representative of total voter turnout among Brown students registered to vote in Rhode Island since some students are registered to vote at off-campus addresses or the addresses of their residence halls.
Based on the Dems' voter registration efforts, Rush estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of voting Brown students are registered in other precincts.
More than one-third of voting Brown students are registered without partisan affiliation, according to the Herald poll. 54.9 percent of student voters were registered Democrats, compared to 8.8 percent of student voters who were registered as Republicans.
The balance was tipped more heavily toward the Democratic party in last week's voting records for the Salomon precinct: 88.2 percent of voters cast ballots for Whitehouse, versus just 11.8 percent who voted for Chafee. 87.3 percent voted to replace Gov. Donald Carcieri '65 with his opponent, Democratic Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty, versus just 12.7 percent who voted in favor of the incumbent Republican governor.
53.5 percent of voters statewide cast ballots for Whitehouse, compared to 46.5 percent for Chafee. Carcieri retained his governorship by a statewide margin of 51 percent to 49 percent.
One reason for the particularly low percentage of those registered who voted in the Salomon precinct could be the difficulty of updating voting records as students take leave or graduate from the University.
Rush said the Dems keep their own database of Brown students who are registered to vote "for that reason - because it is hard to know exactly which Brown students are in the area."
"Every year we put in the voters that we've registered and keep track of them," Rush said.