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Rutgers not only campus to report voting problems
The Star Ledger. November 07, 2004. BY KELLY HEYBOER, Star-Ledger Staff

On Election Day, Rutgers University sophomore Sean Thom waited patiently as a poll worker combed the voter rolls for his name at a Livingston College polling site.

Thom looked downcast as the poll worker came up empty. Though he had registered to vote in his first election in an on-campus drive last month, Thom, 19, assumed his form was not processed in time for Tuesday's election.
He was one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of new voters at Rutgers who reluctantly filled out paper provisional ballots or walked away from the polls when their names could not be found at polling locations.

"I'm kind of disappointed," he said.

Rutgers and Middlesex County election officials are still trying to figure out what caused widespread confusion Tuesday on the state university's New Brunswick and Piscataway campuses.

The university joins a long list of colleges reporting similar problems. Though young voters went to the polls in record numbers this election, they also ran into a record number of obstacles, voting rights advocates said.

"It's a widespread problem, and it's a problem that doesn't get a lot of press," said Adam Alexander, a spokesman for the New Voters Project, a Denver-based nonpartisan group.

A high number of first-time voters and the transient nature of students made college campuses a hot spot for problems on Tuesday.

Students in some areas traditionally have trouble convincing local election officials that they are entitled, under law, to vote using their school addresses. This year, new federal election regulations requiring identification from first-time voters also caused some confusion.

Among the other problems:

In Philadelphia, hundreds of students at the University of Pennsylvania received anonymous fliers warning that out-of-state students could lose their financial aid if they voted as Pennsylvania residents. The Student Democratic Party quickly sent an e-mail message assuring students the flier, which included a doctored newspaper article, was untrue.

Lawyers in Florida filed lawsuits on behalf of college students who did not get to vote because election officials in Miami-Dade and Broward County were slow mailing absentee ballots.

At Kenyon College in Ohio, students reported waiting more than seven hours to cast ballots in a precinct unable to handle the crowds on its two electronic voting machines.

There were some bright spots.

In New Hampshire, students reported little trouble voting near Dartmouth College, the University of New Hampshire and other schools. In previous years, local officials aggressively challenged out-of-state students who tried to vote using their college addresses.

This year, a voter education campaign on New Hampshire college campuses and the presence of lawyers at polls in college towns seemed to alleviate the problem, local voter groups said.

In New Jersey, a few universities, including Montclair State University, reported scattered problems with students getting turned away at the polls or failing to receive absentee ballots.

At Drew University in Madison, about 400 residential students were told last month they could not register to vote using their dorm addresses. It took a call from former Gov. Thomas Kean, Drew's president, to the mayor to clear up the confusion.

The students voted without incident Tuesday, a Drew spokesman said.

It was another story at Rutgers.

University officials say they turned in voter registration forms for nearly 11,000 students before last month's deadline, and it appears many of the registrations were never processed.

"We don't really have a count at this point. ... It's a lot of people," said Susan Sherr, director of the civic engagement and political participation program at Rutgers' Eagleton Institute. "It was very frustrating."

Rutgers' lawyers went to court on Election Day as soon as students reported they were having trouble voting in New Brunswick and Piscataway.

The university's lawyers secured an emergency order from a Middlesex County judge ordering the county clerk to make sure polling locations had enough paper ballots to hand out.

Students whose names were not listed on the voter rolls filled out the ballots and sealed them in envelopes. Their votes will be counted if and when county officials verify the students' addresses and voting status.

RU Voting organizer Beth Logan said she was concerned that the confusion at Rutgers would discourage first-time voters from going to the polls in future elections. But she also hoped something positive would come from the Election Day problems.

"It's both good and bad," Logan said. "With the problems we are experiencing right now, there is going to be election reform."

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