Student-specific problems on election day aren't unknown to Montgomery County.
In 2008, a year with record-setting youth turnout, on-campus voters had to go to St. Michael's Lutheran Church to vote. A large influx of students near the end of the day clogged the polling lines.
In direct response, the county worked to create a new voting precinct primarily for students.
“We tried to work something out so we had a precinct that was solely, or almost solely, students. That's how we came up with E3,” said Randy Wertz, Montgomery County registrar.
Despite the effort, long lines persisted this past election period, when the effort to find an on-campus polling location for the new precinct failed.
On Nov. 6, voting at the new precinct, E3, took place at the Virginia Tech Montgomery Executive Airport. Students waited in the dark two and a half hours after the polls closed. The last voters didn't submit their ballots until approximately 9:30 p.m.
Alyssa Meighan, a freshman and first-time voter, was one of those students. She arrived at the polls with a group of friends at 3:30 p.m. They left almost two hours later.
“We figured it would be like a half hour, maybe,” Meighan recalled. “We were kind of shocked.”
Despite the lines and dropping temperature, the entire group ended up submitting a ballot. Others around them had similar reactions.
“I noticed (others) like us were getting frustrated with the whole thing,” Meighan said. One person behind her called into work to tell them he would be an hour late.
Just like four years prior, students arrived near the end of the day. According to Ken Farrar,
who was in charge of the polling place, between 150 and 200 voters came to the airport each hour throughout the day. At the end of the day, those figures nearly doubled.
“My guess is … they were waiting... until after classes were over,” Farrar said.
In order for on-campus students without a vehicle to vote in the middle of the day, they would have needed time to get to the airport, located 1.5 miles from the nearest dorm, vote, and then get back between classes.
“Location wise, (the) airport's not great," Farrar said. "Access to get there is very hard. ... Ideally, we're right on campus.”
But students voters didn't have an on-campus polling place election day.
From Cassell Coliseum to the Airport
Ultimately, the search for a polling location for the newly created precinct led the registrar's office off-campus to the regional airport, which is 1.5 miles away from Pritchard Hall, the nearest dorm.
However, that was not where the search started.
“We tried to find a place, frankly, on campus that we could use,” Wertz said.
The Montgomery County registrar's office, led by Wertz, started the search by reaching out to Tech to see if a space on campus could accommodate the polling location. The space would ideally have a large open area for voting booths and covered spaces for lines. The space would would also need to provide parking for those citizens that did not live on campus.
E3, while composed primarily of students, also includes town residents that aren't students — although in much smaller numbers. While it's impossible to tell exactly how many registered voters in the precinct are students, because the registration process doesn't require any identification of that sort, the area of the precinct that includes off-campus housing is limited to the apartment complexes near the airport. In the primary elections held in June, when most students are no longer in Blacksburg, the precinct saw a turnout of eight