UNH community shuttles student voters to the polls

By Phoebe McPherson
On November 7, 2012

"All you have to do is get on a bus," were the parting words from Students for Obama representatives that could be heard all throughout campus yesterday. And get on a bus they did: two professional-sized buses, one Wildcat Transit microbus, and approximately 6 domestic vehicles could be seen shuttling students from campus to the polls at Oyster River High School. Several other community members also volunteered to transport students to the polls.

The domestic vehicles had car paint that covered them in Obama symbols, slogans and encouraging words like "vote" and "jump in."

Students whose domicile can be listed as Durham voted at Oyster River High School, located on Coe Drive, behind the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house.  

The stops were pre-determined; coaches took one route, while domestic cars took another.

Many townies, parents and volunteers drove the domestic cars. Locals Tom McNaught and Jeanne Weldon have been supporting politics since 1979 and volunteered to shuttle around students for the 2008 election. They enjoyed it so much that they returned this year.

"We go way, way back for volunteering," McNaught said.

In her car, Weldon had homemade chocolate cookies and offered them to students as they settled into the backseat.

There was a sole neutral bus: the Wildcat Transit microbus, driven by Heath Toupin.

"We go to the stops that big coaches can't get to," she said.

Though many of the buses were offered by New Hampshire for Obama, students said the drivers never attempted to sway students in one direction or another, nor tried to force voters onto the bus.

"No one tried to sway my opinion, especially once they knew I had already registered," said first-time voter Ruth Wendel.

The buses, brightly decorated with die-cut stickers that read "New Hampshire for Obama," transported students from three stops: Kingsbury Hall, Main Street and Main Street at Holloway Commons.

College Democrats President Maria Carrasquillo sat in the front of the bus, coaching the passengers on voter registration.  

"It's so easy," she said.

Carrasquillo then proceeded to remind her peers about the importance of voting, especially in New Hampshire.

"[The] amount of students who vote at UNH could decide this entire election," she said.

Apart from Carrasquillo's discussion, transportation had a surprising lack of stigma and conversation in the short minutes leading to and from Oyster River High School.

Toupin didn't mind whether students were voting as Republicans or Democrats, nor did she mind whether the coaches were swayed either way. She was just happy to see that students were out voting, she said.

"I just want them to vote," Toupin said. "[It] restores my faith."

Students said they enjoyed the shuttles. Many felt that without them, voting would have been a difficulty.

"I would have probably have to have taken a 15 or 20 minute bike ride," said Peter Smith, a UNH student. "It would have been less convenient."

Freshmen Kaitlin Irish and Kristen Meyer greatly appreciated the rides that allowed them the ease of arriving at the polls.

"We wouldn't have been able to get there otherwise," Irish said.

Meyers agreed.

"It would have definitely been harder. ... This is my only opportunity," she said.

But not all enjoyed the Obama advertising.

"I took the bus over because I needed the transportation," said Heather Campbell, a sophomore Republican. "[But] it's kind of biased."

Republican and first-time voter Alex Hodgson said that it didn't matter whether the buses were pro-Obama or pro-Romney.

"People's votes are pretty locked in ... which bus brings them [to the polls] doesn't matter," he said.

The school lacked any sort of transportation in support of Romney.

Students commented on this oddity, including their disappointment in the Romney campaign considering that New Hampshire was considered a toss-up state.

"It's really awkward," said College Republicans member Alyssa Diblisi. "I tweeted something like 'that awkward moment when you have to take the Obama bus to go vote' and I've had seven people favorite it already," she said. "I know they're all pro-Romney."

Campbell wanted more balance.

"I think they need both or none," she said. "[The Obama buses are] that last little push."

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