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‘We were not expecting this.’ Election sees high voter turnout, especially at Penn State

Pennsylvania House candidate shows long lines at polling place

Erin McCracken, candidate for Pennsylvania state representative for the 171st district, recorded a line at a polling place on Election Day, November 6, 2018. "Bring a drink, a snack, whatever you may need, and DO NOT GET OUT OF LINE! " she wrote.
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Erin McCracken, candidate for Pennsylvania state representative for the 171st district, recorded a line at a polling place on Election Day, November 6, 2018. "Bring a drink, a snack, whatever you may need, and DO NOT GET OUT OF LINE! " she wrote.

The 2018 midterm election in Centre County was marked by unusually high voter turnout and enthusiasm, particularly at Penn State, where some precincts broke records.

In Centre County overall, unofficial voter turnout was at 54.6 percent, said Election Coordinator Jody Nedd.

That’s up from 36.6 percent voter turnout in the 2014 midterm elections and 44.68 percent in the 2010 midterm elections, according to data from the Centre County website.

Penn State voters at the HUB had record turnout. State College Boro East 4, which votes in the HUB, went from 4.65 percent turnout in the 2014 election to 28.84 percent turnout in this year’s election.

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A line of Penn State students stretches down the hallway outside the polling place in the HUB on Tuesday. Penn State students had record voter turnout in the 2018 midterm election, according to unofficial vote tallies. Stephen Hirshon Photo Provided

“We saw the highest (midterm) turnout in that precinct on record” as far back as 1996, said Jack Califano, the regional organizing director for NextGen America.

All Penn State precincts combined, said Califano, excluding College West, which includes only some Penn State addresses, had a 530 percent increase in turnout for this election.

NextGen America organizers registered more than 3,800 students on Penn State’s campus between Aug. 29 and the voter registration deadline Oct. 9, said Califano.

“We saw an enormous enthusiasm from students” about the 2018 election, he said.

“We were not expecting this at all,” Derek Mangus, a Penn State senior and vice president of the College Democrats, said Tuesday night before the polls closed. “There’s been multiple times throughout the day where, like, the line has been all the way to the door,” about 50 feet away from the entrance to the polling place in the HUB.

More than 3,200 Penn State students voted in the 2018 midterm election, compared to almost 700 that voted in the 2014 midterm election, said Califano. The Centre County website of official and unofficial voting totals confirms those numbers.

According to reports, voter participation across the nation for Election Day 2018 could be a historic high for a midterm. Centre County may have had a preview of high voter turnout with its number of absentee voters, which almost doubled since the last midterm election in 2014.

Jason Stover, the minority inspector at Ferguson Township North 2, said he had never seen numbers like the precinct had at the beginning of the day Tuesday through lunchtime.

“Basically in the morning, we had a line out the door,” he said. “Prior to the start (of the polls opening), they were lining up, so already it was unusual. We crossed ... 100 voters in the first hour.”

As of Tuesday night just before the polls closed, Ferguson North 2 Judge of Elections John McKinstry said they were on pace to exceed voter turnout in the 2014 midterm election. Unofficial results have the voter turnout at that precinct at 54.17 percent, 4 percent higher than the last midterm election.

“The mood of the voters was different this time,” Stover said. “People were eager and they were happy and they were very energetic and excited to vote.”

Elsewhere in the county, voter turnout greatly surpassed 50 percent.

In Walker Township East and West, voter turnout was 62.58 percent and 66.7 percent, respectively.

At Benner Township South, poll workers reported that out of 1,800 registered voters, they had already seen 1,100 around 6:30 p.m. The Centre County office of elections confirmed, unofficially, that 66.7 percent of voters cast a vote at that precinct.

At Bellefonte Boro Southeast and Bellefonte Boro North, poll workers reported a steady stream of voters throughout the day. The unofficial voter turnout for those precincts was 64.65 percent and 69.73 percent, respectively.

And in Harris Township, where pictures and video show a line out the door of one precinct, unofficial voter turnout was 65.37 percent in the east precinct and 71.57 percent in the west precinct.

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