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Rally Urges Students to Participate in May Election
Durham, NC - "Do you know you can vote here on campus about Amendment One?" Amanda Duffy called out to a student walking across the Bryan Center plaza Friday afternoon.
The student paused, then turned to the small tent where Duffy and others were helping Duke students fill out registration forms to participate in the upcoming primary. North Carolina voters will vote then on the proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit any legal recognition within the state of same-sex partnerships.
"I had been meaning to register in North Carolina and this was a very convenient way to do it," said Kenneth Hoehn, a junior from Georgia who was among several dozen students to sign up as speakers voiced their concerns about the proposed amendment.
"It's important that my voice is heard and the voice of the Duke community is heard," said Hannah Brown, a sophomore from Dallas who also signed up.
Students and others at Duke will be able to cast their ballots April 19 to May 5 in the Old Trinity Room in the West Union Building. Potential voters -- who include students currently registered in another state -- will also be able to register and vote at the same time.
Campus officials said the early-voting process is especially important since Duke's spring semester ends three days before the official May 8 vote, which also includes elections for a number of federal, state and local offices.
"We are grateful to the Durham Board of Elections for creating this important opportunity for the Duke community," said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations. "Students played an essential role in bringing this to the attention of the administration, and in generating widespread interest and enthusiasm for having an early voting site on campus."
"Having this on-campus voting site allows Duke students to participate despite a quirk in the calendar," said Steve Nowicki, dean of undergraduate education, who spoke at Friday's rally. Students should get involved regardless of how they choose to vote, he said, arguing "it's important for students to be aware of the public environment in which Duke exists and to understand the consequences of issues like this one."
"Anything we can do to enhance citizenship and participation in government is a good thing," said Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs.
The kickoff rally organized by Duke Together followed last Friday's statement by Duke University and Duke Medicine saying they "have a strong commitment to diversity in our missions of education, research and service to society. We put this goal into action by valuing all members of our community, including our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) faculty, staff, students and alumni."
A variety of student leaders and campus officials spoke at the rally, with students Jacob Tobia and Elena Botella leading chants of "Discrimination is no fun. Vote against Amendment One." Both also encouraged students to serve as volunteers, with Tobia reading from an op-ed article he wrote for Friday's News & Observer.
"Is anyone else here a little angry?" Pete Schork, president of Duke Student Government, asked the students and others gathered on the plaza. "I am. This is discrimination."
The rally went "much better than expected," said Adrienne Harreveld, a freshman from Jupiter, Florida, who helped students fill out the registration forms. "With the rally, the speakers and free pizza, people stopped to see what was happening. A lot of students are concerned about the issue but didn't know they can vote in North Carolina if they come from another state."
"I feel like as students we also have a responsibility as citizens to stand up for what we believe in," said another freshman, Tiffany Chien of San Jose, Calif., who signed up to vote.
"This is an issue we need to be concerned with as Christians who believe people should be in loving relationships," said Lynda Berg, a Divinity School graduate student from Santa Rosa, Calif., who stopped with a friend to listen to the speakers.
Janie Long, director of Duke's Center for LGBT Life, said the upcoming vote could affect whether future students, faculty and staff choose to come to Duke. "I hear from parents of LGBT students who want to know if their child is coming to a campus and an environment that is going to be supportive," she said.
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