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Iowa City’s Broadway Neighborhood Center looks to educate voters

BY ALISON SULLIVAN | OCTOBER 26, 2012 6:30 AM

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The clock ticks slowly for Keisha Jordan. It’s 12:54 p.m., and Jordan is the first in line to vote.

“I’m voting for the president; that’s the most important thing to me,” the 37-year-old said. “It’s important to have a good president.”

She braved the chilly autumn drizzle Thursday for a chance to vote early at the Broadway Neighborhood Center’s satellite location, which began casting ballots at 1 p.m.

Jordan and other Johnson County residents are likely a part of a record early voting season.

As of Wednesday, more than 32,000 early votes had been cast versus the same period in 2008 when just under 25,000 people had voted, according to data from the Johnson County Auditor’s Office.

“I think there’s a more general acceptance of early voting opportunities that are provided,” Johnson County Auditor Tom Slockett said.

The Associated Press reported recently an early voting record has been set in Iowa. Absentee ballot requests are up 40 percent by this point than in 2008, the  Associated Press reported.

Officials first set up a satellite location at the Broadway Neighborhood Center, 2105 Broadway, in 2008. Sue Freeman, the director of the Broadway Neighborhood Center, said she found many in the surrounding community felt it was difficult to vote.

“Some people don’t always have the daytime [hours], then with transportation issues, and not knowing where or how to vote,” Freeman said. “Look to where people already are; that’s important for access.”

Slockett said establishing satellite polling locations where people are likely to go anyways for their daily needs tend to be more successful, citing the 766 ballots cast during the first day of early voting at the Iowa City Public Library’s satellite location.

Freeman said 99 early voters turned up for the 2008 event, and 79 voted on Thursday. Despite the turnout, Freeman said the center’s early promotion efforts are creating more awareness about early voting in more underserviced neighborhoods.

With the neighborhood’s constant transition of new families and residents, Freeman said she expects a fair amount of first time voters.

“We love first-time voters,” she said.

University of Iowa law students Anna McGlaun and Sylvia Smith volunteered to help spread the word and knock on neighborhood doors.

“Some said they’d already voted, others seemed really responsive if they hadn’t,” McGlaun said of those they’d encountered during their canvass. “Some had already voted today.”

A few hours after the polls opened at the Broadway Center, children released from class and day care programs ducked and dodged between legs and furniture, as those who already voted continued to mingle. A preschooler proudly wore a red, white, and blue patriotic sticker on his chest that read: Broadway votes. He cast a “ballot” in a mock election between Cookie Monster and Bob the Builder.
Freeman stressed the center’s event isn’t just a convenient opportunity to vote early but an opportunity to learn about issues on the ballot and “a party to celebrate the vote.”

In the weeks leading up to the event, volunteers took time to speak to groups at the center about what to expect on the ballot and what the different issues mean.

“One time, I had someone come up to me asking me what the justice-center issue was all about,” Freeman said.

For Smith, the event signals an important step for the neighborhood.

“I think it’s important to keep the place open as a voting place,” the 28-year-old said. “The [African American] demographic in this area needs to be represented.”


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