Liberty University became a formidable presence in the presidential election process with the registration of over 4,000 voters – many of them residential students who changed their original registrations from out of state to local listings.
Previous to Liberty’s voter registration drive, Ward III had less than 2,000 registered voters, a total that jumped to 4,731 before the registration deadlines.
Without knowing how individuals voted, it is impossible to draw decisive conclusions. But with Liberty’s traditionally conservative values, and a majority of students that tend to hold those same beliefs, commentators are safely assuming that Liberty students swung Lynchburg for Sen. John McCain.
Final results indicate that Liberty did indeed make a big difference. Heritage Elementary School, the site where Liberty students voted, saw the highest voter turnout rate for a single polling location in Lynchburg with 78 percent of registered voters coming to vote. Such a high rate contributed to Ward III’s 70 percent turnout rate overall, giving it the lead for Lynchburg precincts.
This final statistic emphasizes the presence of Liberty students more than any other – the number of voters at the He
ritage polls more than doubled from past elections, and the total of recorded votes speaks volumes. Obama: 639. McCain: 3,000.
“That’s why the city didn’t go for Obama,” local Democratic Party Chairman John Lawrence said in the News & Advance. “There’s really no way around it.”
The Democratic Party gained votes in every other Lynchburg precinct, a fact that further bolsters Lawrence’s claims. Reviews of precinct results show that Heritage recorded over 30 percent more voters than any other precinct in Lynchburg, and a total of 3,639 votes were recorded at that site, the second highest number of voters for Lynchburg being 1,934 who voted at St. Paul’s in Ward II.
Further evidence of Liberty’s presence at the polls is the 62 percent increase in Ward III’s voter totals compared to a 23 percent increase in Ward II and even lower increases for Wards I and II.
“The turnout was good, and we’re proud of the students for not just using the day as a vacation day. No matter what happens, we’ll know we did all we could do as a school,” Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. told the News & Advance before the election. After he learned that Liberty students swung the city’s vote from one candidate to another, he stated, “Liberty University can never be treated like a second-class citizen in local politics again. Our students have earned their right to be heard.”
While Sen. Obama won the state of Virginia, a first for the red state in over four decades, he fell short by 1,300 votes in Lynchburg. Obama garnered 16,256 votes in Lynchburg, but McCain edged him out with a total of 17,622 to give him a 51 percent majority to Obama’s 47 percent.
Overall, Lynchburg counted 8,000 more votes than in any previous election, a total that Liberty students and a revitalized effort in Ward II contributed to.
Though McCain did not succeed in taking Virginia, the race was so close that every effort truly counted. Even two days before the election, the News & Advance reported Obama had a mere three-percent lead over McCain, and that nine percent of Virginia voters were still undecided.
Regardless of political affiliations, a clear winner in last Tuesday’s election was the democratic processwith voter turnout across the nation a bit higher than in past elections. About 122 million voters were recorded in 2004, while experts estimated between 126-133 million voters showed up for this year’s election, according to the News & Advance.
“The fact that people turned out in record numbers to vote in this election suggests that our democracy is engaged, that people are taking their civic responsibility seriously,” wrote Time magazine’s managing editor Richard Stengel. “It’s a reminder, as Justice Louis Brandeis suggested, that the highest office in a democracy is not that of president but that of citizen.”
Students of Liberty University are just one piece of evidence to support Stengel’s comments, but they played a role that garnered local, state and national attention. The public will be watching to see what presence Liberty will make in future elections on every level, but no doubts remain that it was a mobilized force in last Tuesday’s election.