College Park City Council voting is finally coming to the University of Maryland.
After years of pressure from the SGA, the College Park City Council voted Tuesday to add a new polling location in Stamp Student Union for this year’s Nov. 5 election.
The motion passed 6-0-2, with District 4 Councilwoman Denise Mitchell and District 1 Councilman Fazlul Kabir both abstaining.
Although Stamp is already used for county, midterm and presidential elections, the upcoming city council election will be its first. It will become the city’s third city council polling location, along with City Hall, located on Knox Road, and Davis Hall, located in the Public Works building off Rhode Island Avenue.
The new location is expected to target students, but any city resident will be able to cast their ballot at Stamp.
During the meeting, several students spoke in support of the new polling site. Samantha Garay, a junior public policy major and member of the SGA’s Civic and Governmental Affairs committee, talked about her experience helping students vote during this past election cycle.
“We told them where to vote, we told them that Stamp would be available to vote, we told them about absentee voting,” Garay said. “But even then, deadlines would be passed — ’Oh, shoot, I have an internship,’ ‘Oh, shoot, I can’t go.’”
“Having Stamp Student Union be able to be accessible to more voters is paramount for students,” she added.
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College Park resident Oscar Gregory criticized the council for prioritizing student access to voting over current residents.
“The fact is working adults have less opportunity to vote at voting centers than students, yet we make do,” said Gregory, who lives in District 4.
Gregory argued that instead of a poll center on campus, the SGA should push for students to vote through the no-excuse absentee ballots they advocated for on a state level.
“The SGA should be propagating the no-excuse ballot as the main method of voting for students as an alternative to a voting center that offers less flexibility,” Gregory said. “But establishing a voting center because it’s hard to reach City Hall — the same rationale should be applied to create voting centers in each of [College Park] Woods’ neighborhoods, of course, all within walking distance of residents’ homes.”
District 3 Councilman John Rigg disagreed with Gregory’s assessment that the polling place would be ill-placed by making it more accessible to students.
“Putting voting centers where people will use them is key to increasing democracy and increasing representation,” Rigg said. “Students are residents of our city and an important part of our city.”
Rigg also argued that university faculty and staff who are College Park residents would also benefit from the new poll location.
“I can appreciate that change is hard, and I can appreciate that democracy can be challenging, and I can appreciate that new voters can sometimes look to change incumbency,” Rigg said. “But it’s absolutely the right thing to do.”
Alex Tobin, the student liaison to the city council, also disagreed with Gregory’s suggestion that the SGA should be pushing no-excuse absentee ballots instead of adding the new poll. Tobin said the two efforts aren’t mutually exclusive.
“I think they cater to different populations of voters,” Tobin said. “But it all kind of accumulates in the push to expand access to the polls. And SGA and the student body care not just about students getting involved, but a lot of these measures help long time residents as well.”
SGA president Jonathan Allen also applauded the council’s decision.
“I’m very excited about the fact that we have our own polling location on campus,” Allen said. “One of the priorities during my term as president, and that Alex has worked really hard on, is strengthening student’s relation with the city and I think this furthers that goal.”
In addition to the new polling location, the city council also approved designating a center for early voting at College Park Community Center on Oct. 27.