Feb 2, 2010

New polling place to be determined

by Amanda Sullivan

Liberty University students have made an impact on the City of Lynchburg because of their ability to now vote locally. Many people originally thought that students voting locally would be nothing more than a passing fad because of the presidential election in 2008, but that theory was put to rest when over 2,000 students showed up at the polls for the off-year election of local and state candidates in November 2009.

“It isn’t a passing fancy,” City Councilman Jeff Helgeson said. “Folks are registering to vote over there.”

Because of the recent influx of Liberty student voters at the Heritage Elementary polling place, Helgeson has proposed to the city council that the polling place be changed to accommodate the additional voters.

“The Heritage polling place has grown to the largest in the city,” Helgeson said. “The polling place went from people waiting in line two to three minutes to an hour and a half.”

When Helgeson first approached the city council with the request, he asked that Liberty be given its own polling place and was immediately shot down, he said. Now, he is just asking for a larger location that can handle the amount of voters that will file through the building.

“(Heritage) is a poor location to handle that many people,” Helgeson said. “The traffic is bad, and I think (Heritage Elementary) would appreciate it not being there.”

Helgeson proposed that the polling place be moved closer to Liberty.

“When you look at who the largest bloc of voters is, it’s Liberty University,” he said.

The Lynchburg Democratic Committee Chair John Lawrence disagreed with Helgeson’s reasoning for moving
the polling location.

“(We need) to keep it accessible to all the people in the precinct — not just move it to where most of the votes come from. We need to keep it in a central location,” Lawrence said.

“I understand the Heritage polling place has been crowded the past two elections. I’ve also heard it’s not easy to get over to Liberty because of Candler’s Mountain Road,” Lawrence said.

“Liberty has decided to offer the old Circuit City or Steve&Barry’s vacant spaces at the newly acquired Candlers Station Shopping Center (to use as the) polling place,” Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said.

The City of Lynchburg has a total of
63,306 people, of which 19.2 percent or 12,160 individuals are college students, according to the 2006-2008 Census Report.
Several individuals have pointed out that other Lynchburg universities, such as Lynchburg College, Sweet Briar College and Randolph College do not have their own polling locations.

However, these universities do not have as large of a student body as that of Liberty University, which at just under 12,000 students may be compared to a state university or a small town in itself. Furthermore, the University of Virginia (UVA) has three polling places on campus, according the the News and Advance. UVA has 13, 762 undergraduate students, according to the UVA Web site.

Lynchburg College has a total of 2,589 students, according to the school’s Office of Institutional Research. Randolph College’s student body consists of 1,246 students, according to the Director of Institutional Research Deborah White.

Some city leaders are reluctant to move the polling place closer to Liberty University, fearing that the move will encourage a greater student turnout at the polls.

“Liberty University will take control of City Council and the boards that City Council appoints, including the School Board,” Lawrence wrote in a fundraising letter to local Democrats sent out on Jan. 29.

The city council is scheduled to vote on the motion Tuesday, Feb. 2.

Contact Amanda Sullivan at
amsullivan3@liberty.edu.


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