November 4, 2009 : By Mitzi Bible
Liberty students turned out by the busloads yesterday to vote at the Heritage precinct — Lynchburg’s busiest precinct. With about 3,200 students eligible to vote locally, Liberty cancelled classes and arranged for buses to take students to the polls in regular four-minute intervals, from 6:50 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
The Heritage precinct, it turns out, ended up being the precinct to push republican Scott Garrett, a Lynchburg city councilman, to victory over incumbent Shannon Valentine by about 200 votes in the House of Delegates 23rd District race.
LU senior Caleb Mast, chairman of the College Republicans at Liberty, estimated about 1,000 Liberty students voted in this election — and that included many students who were voting for the first time. He and his board members set up a table at the precinct with refreshments and kept a tally through the afternoon.
Mast said he saw a steady turnout of LU students, up until 3 p.m., when some of his board members, along with Dr. Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, went back to campus in a truck decorated with campaign signs and carting an elephant made of chicken wire, and rallied more students to go vote.
“They said it was pretty effective; they got to see a lot of people on campus who hadn’t voted yet,” Mast said.
Other members of LU’s administration also showed up at the polls to encourage students, including Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr., campus pastor Johnnie Moore and LU co-founder Dr. Elmer Towns, dean of the School of Religion.
Mast said he was proud of the administration for helping get the word out to students to vote in this election.
“They’ve done a wonderful job. They’ve been very innovative. They’ve sent campus alerts, messages, they’ve helped in convocation, sponsored a panel discussion on why it was important to register. They stressed that it’s important for our [Liberty’s] future growth and the positive impact we can have on this community.”
“I think it’s clear — if Liberty students hadn’t come out, if Ergun Caner and my board members hadn’t gotten out,” the election, especially for the House of Delegates race, could have had a different result, he added. “Liberty had a direct impact on that.”
In a letter to students, faculty and staff on Monday, Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. encouraged registered voters to not neglect their civic duty.
“No matter who wins or loses tomorrow, the important thing is that LU students, faculty and staff turn out in big numbers,” he wrote. “That will send a message to the city that it is not OK to impose exorbitant taxes on LU students or impose expensive requirements on LU when the school grows.”
Falwell spent Tuesday morning going to the polls to encourage students to vote. Tuesday night Falwell and his wife Becki were in Richmond where they attended governor-elect Bob McDonnell’s victory celebration.
“As I greeted our students at the polls on Tuesday to see them vote for the first time in a local election here in Lynchburg, I knew I was witnessing history in the making,” Falwell said. “My father dreamed of the day when LU students would be treated as first-class citizens in this community. Now, that day has finally arrived.”
Falwell said he had many reasons to celebrate while attending McDonnell’s victory party.
“As Becki and I celebrated with the new governor in Richmond on Tuesday night, I received word that the LU student vote was responsible for Scott Garrett’s victory,” he said. “I shared the news with the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates and my wife snapped a picture of him giving me a high five. I was elated, not because of who won and who lost the race, but because LU students were the deciding factor in their first local election.”
Falwell said the participation of LU students will make them a pivotal factor in determining the future direction of Lynchburg government.
“Tuesday was so monumental for LU because never again will Liberty be required to spend tuition monies to fund city-mandated projects and never again will Liberty’s students and their families be targeted with staggering meals, lodging and sales taxes without representation in local government,” he said.
“The Lynchburg, Virginia region has benefitted greatly from Liberty University economically over the decades. Now, Liberty University students will have a voice in local politics,” he added.
Liberty University made national headlines last year when the school recruited about 4,000 students to register in the state of Virginia. The school set a goal of 1,500 new registrants this academic year, but surpassed that at 1,729.
Political candidates made their way to campus this fall, including McDonnell; republican Bill Bolling, a Liberty alumnus who was re-elected Virginia’s lieutenant governor; republican Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s new attorney general, and Garrett and Valentine.
Candidates for upcoming elections, from all parties, are regularly invited to Liberty University.