Many hopeful student voters, some attempting to participate in the democratic process for the first time, ran into problems casting their ballots at the Gantcher Center polling location yesterday.
Several students showed up at the center only to be told they were not on the records for that polling location, according to head of Tufts Votes Jacob Wessel.
Some were redirected to different polling locations in Medford or Somerville, while others, after calling the City of Medford, were still told their names were not at all on the city’s list.
The addresses of some Tufts dorms are ambiguous since they are not located on an actual street, and the addresses provided to Tufts Votes by the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) for a few buildings did not match up with those on the City of Medford’s list, according to Wessel, a junior.
“I do not know exactly why some students were not on the rolls,” Wessel said. “It may be that the City of Medford never received their registration form. But definitely the address problem must have been a factor.”
Tufts Votes did its best to reconcile the differences between the two lists and register students at addresses recognized by the City of Medford, Wessel said.
“We found some of the addresses were wrong when we checked with the clerks of Somerville and Medford in October, and we corrected the addresses which we found to be wrong,” he said.
In the days leading up to the registration deadline last month, Tufts Votes urged students who had not received letters confirming their registration to call in to verify that their forms had been processed, according to Wessel.
He noted that when students arrived at the polls, many – most commonly residents of Hillsides Apartments – were unaware of the address at which they had been registered to vote, and their names were often hard to locate on the precinct list.
“We, using our list from ResLife, had Hillsides listed at 10 North Hill Road, whereas Medford considered Hillsides 0 North Hill Road,” he said.
President of Tufts Democrats Bronwen Raff, who was operating the Tufts Votes hotline, said that an overwhelming majority of the approximately 120 calls received yesterday were from students facing challenges voting at the Gantcher Center.
“We knew it was a problem early in the day when students were calling and blaming us for not registering them properly,” Raff, a senior, said. “But upon further investigation we realized it wasn’t necessarily our fault, but possibly a problem with the City of Medford.”
Raff said she and other hotline operators tried to explain to confused students how to cast a provisional ballot, which is a ballot used to record a vote when a voter’s eligibility is in question. However, according to Wessel, some voters whose names could not be found on Medford City Hall’s list were denied the right to cast a provisional ballot.
“It is my understanding, and the understanding of the lawyer serving as an observer from the Elizabeth Warren campaign, that anyone could cast a provisional ballot who expressed an interest in doing so and they did not need to be on the Medford City Hall list,” Wessel said.
Emotions flared, and occasional disagreements broke out between poll workers and student voters as well as between Tufts Votes volunteers and poll workers, according to Wessel.
“At times it got frustrating for the Medford poll workers to have to deal with so many requests for provisional ballots,” Wessel said. “It is unusual for people to have to deal with people who do not know their street address, but Tufts is unique because Tufts students who do live in dorms often do not know their address.”
Representatives of Tufts’ Office of Community Relations came down to the polling location to check in with poll workers and thank them for their work, according to Wessel, and employees from the City of Medford were involved throughout the day, attempting to help sort through the confusion.
“Everyone wanted this process to go well, but somewhere there [was] miscommunication about who could file provisional ballots,” he said.
By the time the polls closed, the tension had largely dissipated, Wessel noted.
“I believe at the end of the day, nearly every student who wanted to vote was given at least the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot,” Director of Community Relations Barbara Rubel said.
She explained that the university plans to put in place voter registration measures to avoid similar issues from surfacing in the future.
“We have some work to do straightening out how our residential facilities list their addresses,” Rubel said. “A number of people have to put their heads together and prevent this kind of thing from happening again.”
Wessel noted that he is collecting stories from students who faced complications at the polls today in case of potential challenges to the precinct results.
“I would like to know everyone’s story in as much detail as possible so this won’t happen again, and so if anything can be remedied, I can make sure it is done,” he said.