Around 400 students braved a quarter-inch of rain on Saturday to cast their vote for the November election early. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., town officials aided by student volunteers set up shop in Morrell Lounge of Smith Union for Early Vote Day.
The turnout was comparable to last year's, when 409 students voted early. According to Brunswick Town Clerk Fran Smith, last year was the first time the town organized an Early Vote Day during the past nine years.
As this is an off-year election, the town had not initially planned to do it again, said Smith. However, tremendous interest in Question 1, which proposes a people's veto of Maine's new same-sex marriage law, prompted the town to organize Early Vote Day this year, as well.
In addition to presenting a more convenient location for students to vote, Early Vote Day spares students the trouble of having to look up their polling places, which differ depending on dorm or residence. It also takes some pressure off of the polls on Tuesday, said Smith.
The union was virtually abandoned when voting began, but the line eventually wound well into the Sargent Gymnasium hallway. Smith said that 417 ballots were cast and estimated that around 20 of them had been cast by non-student Brunswick voters.
It being a Saturday, Ben Cedars '11 slept late and almost missed the 2 p.m. cut-off. He ended up being the very last person in line, and said he waited an hour to cast a vote. Still, said Cedars, "it's pretty convenient being able to vote here."
Others did not make it so far. Matt Apeseche '12 saw the length of the line and opted to wait for Election Day. Mike Bottinelli '13 said he went to brunch with a friend and then to an opera, and woke up too late to have time to also vote.
"I think it's more exciting to do it the day of," said Danny Chaffetz '11.
In recent weeks, the Bowdoin College Democrats "did a pretty major PR campaign" promoting Early Vote Day, said Co-President Catie English '10. Signs around campus promoted the Democrats' endorsements of voting "no" on Questions 1, 2 and 4. Question 2 proposes a reduction in the municipal excise tax for certain motor vehicles, and Question 4 proposes limiting government spending and tax increases.
The Democrats took no stance on any of the other ballot questions or on the race for Town Councilor at Large, the only local seat up for election in any of the districts with Bowdoin dorms.
According to English, promotional activities ranged from "dorm storms," in which volunteers knocked on doors and reminded students to vote, to stationing volunteers 250 feet outside of Smith Union to promote Early Vote Day and the Democrats' stances on Questions 1, 2 and 4. Maine law forbids campaigning within 250 feet of a polling place.
Steve Slepchik is the Central Maine Volunteer Recruitment Coordinator for the No on 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign. He was one of several non-students campaigning outside the Union, imploring those who hadn't yet voted to do so and handing "I Voted No on 1" stickers to students who had.
"It's really great to see students take ownership of their adopted home," said Slepchik. "I think students are invested in this community. It's a great exchange. It's raining, and I'm really impressed, and they should be commended."
District 4 Representative Karen Klatt is challenging incumbent Joanne King for the Town Councilor at Large, and both were milling around outside, trying to make their names known to a student population that is often oblivious and generally out-of-reach due to the College's rules regarding soliciting on campus.
"It's really hard for local candidates to interact with the college community," said King, "so it's a challenge when you know there's an issue like No on 1" that will draw large numbers to the polls to cast a vote.
The volume of campaigning was a source of bemusement for some and aggravation for others.
"I was assaulted several times walking into Moulton," said Cedars, in jest.
Out-of-state students face the decision of whether or not to register in Maine. Klatt thought the choice was "very strange" and said she would expect that they would be more invested in their home state.
When students leaving brunch at Moulton Union cited place of registration as an excuse, though, Slepchik was ready, quickly noting that students from Massachusetts would still be able to switch their registration back in time to vote in the special January election to fill the late Senator Ted Kennedy's seat.
"Maine can have a really important role in the national movement," he said of Question 1.
"Why would I not vote in the place I live for most of the year?"
At the end of the day, all seemed pleased.
"It's been very successful, and I think a lot of people have appreciated having it here," said College Democrats Co-President Caitlin Callahan '11.
"From our standpoint, I feel it was really a team effort," said Smith. "It worked out, I think, really well for everyone. We had a few people thank us for coming and received no complaints."
As for whether Early Vote Day will return for a third year, "I'm going to play it by ear and see," said Smith. "Obviously there's a cost to send seven people out there. We're definitely open to it, though."