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Early voting on campus brings students to polls

(Erica Lowenkron/ Daily Collegian)

(Erica Lowenkron/ Daily Collegian)

For the first time ever, University of Massachusetts students registered in Amherst have the option to fill out their ballots ahead of Election Day at early voting polls in the Student Union Building.

The new early voting operation is a “pilot” program organized by the Student Government Association, the town of Amherst and the University, according to SGA Secretary of Finance Derek Dunlea.

Students can vote on both Nov.1 and Nov. 3 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Student Union

According to Dunlea, more than 300 students participated on the first day on Oct. 25, while early voting was also held Oct. 27.

The SGA initially sought to establish an Election Day voting location on campus, but found the process too lengthy and expensive to achieve this year. Dunlea and others in the SGA view the early voting project as a stepping stone to establishing a permanent polling location at UMass.

“We give the town credit for proposing the early voting idea,” said SGA President Anthony Vitale. “This is a great win for students.”

The SGA began planning the operation with Paul Bockelman, the town manager, and Amherst officials last month. The work has been “heavily supported” by the University, Vitale said.

The polls are staffed each day by student employees and volunteers, along with a representative from the town government and a police officer. The ballots filled out during this early period will not be cast until Election Day on Nov. 8 in a process that functions much like absentee voting.

According to Dunlea, the SGA has set a goal for 1,200 students to vote in the Student Union, which would be roughly 10 percent of the on-campus population.

“We’ve been trying to make it as easy as possible to vote,” said Tyler O’Day, the SGA secretary of public relations and recruitment. Voting has not been held on campus since 2004, he added.

Rachel Crowe, a junior sociology and legal studies major, has previously voted in the town of Amherst but decided to partake in early voting this year.

“It’s on campus so it’s much more convenient,” Crowe said. “It’s a lot easier not having to go out of my way.”

In addition to the SGA, members of the UMass Votes Coalition, which includes the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG), the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy and other groups, have been pushing to get out the student vote.

The coalition registered more than 3,000 UMass students this fall on campus and online, according to MASSPIRG Chair Julia Seremba. She explained that although the deadline for voter registration has passed, she and others in UMass Votes are now focused on advertising where and when students can vote.

“We want to get all the people that we registered to actually vote,” added Phil Duarte, MASSPIRG vice chair.

Students who do not vote early will vote among several locations in town on Election Day. Those who plan to vote in Amherst on Nov. 8 can look up their specific polling locations on the Massachusetts according to Amherst Town Clerk Sandra Burgess.

“When you look at the (precinct) boundaries created every 10 years, campus is sprawled throughout them,” Burgess said.

She encouraged students to check their polling locations and voter statuses on the website in advance of the election, and stressed that first-time voters should plan to bring identification with proof of their Amherst address, such as a bill or paycheck.

“This is good stuff to plan for before Election Day,” Burgess said.

Additional transportation from campus to polling places is not certain yet, though members of SGA hope to help organize transportation from Haigis Mall to the polls and back, according to Vitale.

Hannah Depin can be reached at hdepin@umass.edu.

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