76 ballots counted in new University precinct

Signs posted in University Hall direct students to the new polling location in the building. (Jake McLernon)

Only 76 out of 996 registered voters in this year’s election cast ballots in the newly formed University precinct, according to unofficial Election Day returns released by the Fairfax County government.

Seventy-four votes were cast at University Hall, the new on-campus polling location established in July when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance to form the new University precinct out of a western portion of the Braddock District’s Woodson precinct. Two ballots were counted as absentee.

“I’m really not surprised,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova, who was reelected Tuesday and helped push forward the ordinance that formed the precinct. “I would have been more surprised if there was a phenomenal turnout.”

Bulova told Connect2Mason that with a brand new precinct, students and residents within the precinct’s boundaries had a limited period of time to know about the opportunity to vote on-campus. Previously, on-campus students who changed their residency to their location at Mason would vote at nearby Woodson High School.

Republican Braddock District Supervisor John Cook, whose district includes Mason, said the low turnout was more likely tied to the “partisan” process that established the new precinct.

“The problem was that the groundwork hadn’t been set up,” said Cook, who told Connect2Mason he would have liked a more normal process in which his office worked directly with students. “. . .None of the groundwork had been done because it was politically inspired.”

Prior to the ordinance’s introduction, Cook had been working to establish a closer polling location at nearby Villa Elementary School. He told the Washington Examiner he was not consulted about the decision involving his district and was “concerned.”

Bulova, a Democrat, told Connect2Mason this summer that she introduced the ordinance based on the many requests for an on-campus polling location she received in her time as supervisor for the Braddock District, prior to becoming chairwoman. She called the move “purely convenience” for students.

Mason student Leslie Cook, who serves as Student Government’s secretary of government and academic affairs, said that Student Government made an effort to tell people about the new University precinct and on-campus polling location while kiosking in September and October, but made a decision against advertising closer to Election Day.

“We wanted to wait and see if and how those responsible for running the precinct would advertise,” said Leslie Cook in an email. “[And] we, as an organization, are very conscious about how we use student money and did not feel advertising for Election Day was something for which student funds should be used.” 

The primary reason for the low turnout, however, could be attributed to the election only being for local races, according to Leslie Cook. She also said that in addition to a lack of advertising, students may “have more of an investment in elections at their permanent residence.”

“I don’t know whether campus is the place where most students want to vote,” said Supervisor Cook, who told Connect2Mason he does not want to impose views on where students should vote at home or at school. Unofficial returns cannot indicate how many students or those living within the precinct’s boundaries voted at their parents’ house or other permanent residence.

With more media attention surrounding the upcoming presidential election, some predict the climate of political races at Mason may be different in 2012.

“I think you can be sure that both political parties will be working to help influence or activate the folks who can register at the university precinct,” Bulova said. “Both parties, if they’re smart, will be playing a role in helping the precinct to be more established.”

Full election results are available on the Fairfax County Government’s website.


C2M Staff Writer Rob Cooper contributed to this report.

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