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Voter turnout low at Pizzitola Sports Center as mail-in ballots surge in R.I.

Majority of voters interviewed by The Herald express support for Biden, some voice anxiety as they await electoral results

Voter turnout was relatively low on Election Day at the Pizzitola Sports Center, the polling location for on-campus students and many other voters on Providence’s East Side. 

Around 70 voters had cast their ballots in-person at the Pizzitola by 4 p.m. on Election Day, out of 3,279 registered voters, according to poll volunteer Emily Rust ’22.

Rust attributed the relatively low turnout to the rise of mail-in ballots and students at Brown instead voting in their home states. She believes that many students who had come to vote at the Pizzitola Center were students who live outside of the United States, but hold American citizenship. Rust herself lives in Norway, but is an American citizen and is registered to vote in Rhode Island. 

Professor Richard Arenberg acknowledged the low turnout at the Pizzitola Center during the Watson Institute’s Election Night Watch Party. “All the evidence we’ve seen until now is that, in general, we’re seeing higher voter turnout from young people,” Arenberg said. “So I’m not sure I can explain (the low turnout) yet — if this is just a blip or the majority of Brown students are voting in other jurisdictions or what exactly might explain it.”

The volunteers were surprised by the number of people who arrived at the Pizzitola and had admitted that they weren’t registered to vote, Rust said. “And I actually think it's really admirable. It's easy to feel embarrassed or ashamed” about forgetting to register, she said. 

Rust said that the volunteers at the Pizzitola did their best to provide resources about voter registration. Rhode Island offered same-day voter registration at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in downtown Providence. About 3,900 Rhode Islanders took advantage of same-day voter registration in 2016. 

“Close to half” of the voters at the Pizzitola were Brown students, Rust estimated, while the rest were other community members from the East Side.

The majority of Pizzitola voters interviewed by The Herald expressed support for former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Rachel Beard, a surgeon at Rhode Island Hospital and a faculty member at the Alpert Medical School, voted for Joe Biden at the Pizzitola. Beard said she would be “anxious” on election night, recalling her experience awaiting results in 2016.

“I was shocked and devastated when Trump won in 2016,” she said, “so, just hoping it won't go that way again.”

While Biden wasn’t Beard’s first choice for the Democratic Party candidate, she thinks he will perform well if elected president, adding that she will “support anyone running against Donald Trump.” 

Beard also added that handling the COVID-19 pandemic was “absolutely” one of her main concerns this election season.

Hamzah Ansari, a lecturer in entrepreneurship studies at the University, said he feels “confident” about Biden’s prospects of winning the presidential election. He said he “strongly favors” the candidate and “cannot wait for President Biden.”

But many voters felt less confident about the chances of a Biden presidency.

“I'm not that anxious, but a lot of my friends are,” said Sean Lumkong ’21, a Biden voter. “I've just assumed that worst case, Trump wins again, and that's what can happen. I hope (Biden) wins, but I'm not trying to keep my hopes super high.” 

Hans Lei ’21, another Biden voter, expressed concern for the aftermath of the presidential election and the potential for civil unrest.

“It seems like a lot of institutions, both public and private, have been preparing for a lot of protests,” Lei said. “So a lot of unrest in the cities — that's what I'm really worried about.”

Despite tension surrounding the 2020 election, Rust explained that within the Pizzitola voting center morale was high. 

“Once I got here this morning, just around 6 a.m., immediately, it was just such a nice vibe. Everyone is really, really friendly in here,” Rust said. “So it's actually been really nice to get a chance to really get to know some people who are outside of the Brown bubble of college students.” 

Rust added that voters have been “really friendly,” but voting in a pandemic remains a “weird” experience. “People have this sort of mindset, like ‘let's just do this quickly.’”



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