Primary season brings out young area voters

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Polling officials in Foggy Bottom said turnout for this year’s elections was significantly higher than past presidential primaries in the area, as primarily- Democratic residents and students came out to vote Tuesday.

Election coordinators at St. Mary’s Court, one of six polling stations in the Foggy Bottom area, estimated an increase in voter turnout of four to five times that of the 2004 presidential primary.

Officials at Smith Center’s polling location also cited a considerably larger turnout of residents and students. Smith Center often sees fewer voters than other polling stations because many GW students are registered in their home states.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won the 2008 D.C. primary by what election officials called a “vast majority.” Both Obama and McCain also went on to sweep the Potomac Primary with victories in Maryland and Virginia.

“This is the most that we’ve ever had for a primary, and it’s been a steady flow of voters all day long,” said Laetitia Combrinck, the voting precinct captain at Smith Center. Combrinck, who has helped with the polls since 1998, estimated a voter turnout of roughly 110. Of those voters, 90 were Democrats and 20 were Republicans.

“Typically this location has the lowest attendance in the city,” said David Lehrman, an election official and ANC commissioner who was working at Smith Center. “Empirically speaking, some neighborhoods are just filled with activists. Here it’s mostly students who vote in other states.”

Combrinck and Lehrman said there were about 30 student voters.

Prasanna Vasudevan, a fourth- year GW medical student, was one of those voters.

“Most of my friends voted before work this morning,” Vasudevan said. “I don’t really know very many Republicans but those that I do know voted today.”

D.C. has an estimated 260,000 registered Democrats – about 75 percent of the city’s registered voters. In comparison, the District has only about 29,000 registered Republican voters.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that here the important race is between Clinton and Obama,” Vasudevan said. “Each delegate they get is important and if one took the advantage over the other and D.C. made the difference it could be great.”

This is the first year the District has had the potential to make a difference in presidential primary voting. In 2004, organizers scheduled the city’s primary before the Iowa caucus – a violation of party rules that led many candidates to remove their names from the ballot.

“When we don’t vote people are like ‘Oh well, it’s only a small percentage of the people there that are voting anyways,'” said Paul Colton, a D.C. voter since 1970. “If we do have a large voter turnout for this primary it’s always a plus in terms of our argument for congressional voting rights.”

Tuesday’s presidential primary was especially important for District voters, as it is the only national race in which they are able to vote – as D.C. lacks voting representation in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

“The residents here in D.C. have to fight for everything they’ve gained,” GW Presidential Administrative Fellow Josh Lasky said. “Even now we’re fighting for the vote and when residents come out to the polls, it’s a representation of that attitude and that fight.”

At St. Mary’s Court, more than 600 residents voted, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

“It’s so exciting to be on a campus where everyone cares,” said Michael Akin, GW’s director of community relations. “Even if they don’t vote here they’re campaigning and working – it’s a really great local connection to this primary.”

Students who still want to register to vote in D.C. elections this September and the presidential election this November are required to fill out a registration form to be received by the D.C. Board of Election by Aug. 9. Forms can be found at the Fire Station and the West End Library.

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