The University of Maryland’s Xfinity Center swapped volleyball nets for voting booths this week as early in-person voting for the November elections began around the state.
University of Maryland President Darryll Pines handed out a different certificate of completion — “I voted” stickers to those casting ballots at the new polling place on the College Park campus. This is the first year the basketball arena is being staged as one of 11 early voting locations in Prince George’s County.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic postponed fall sports, the arena was typically used during the fall for volleyball practice and matches, Pines said.
The idea to convert the arena into an early voting location came from the athletics department and student athletes, who called on the university this summer to take a greater stand on social justice issues, Pines said.
“We were super excited we could do this for our student athletes, since it was their original idea,” he said.
The former dean of the engineering school has said social justice is also of great importance to him. Shortly after taking office this summer, Pines outlined in a message to the community his immediate actions to address injustices and foster a better culture within the university.
While university operations will continue on election day Nov. 3, the administration is strongly encouraging faculty to be flexible for students and others in the campus community who may face long lines and wait times.
Like many early voting sites around the state, the Xfinity Center was bustling this week as masked voters shuffled through the doors.
“We know that our students have been super engaged this year,” Pines said. “They have communicated to administration that they want to exercise their right to vote.”
The university president also touted the work of organizations such as Terps Vote, a coalition of students and staff are working to educate the campus community on civic engagement and the importance of voting beyond the presidential election.
Outside of the arena, student volunteers like Alexandra Marquez flanked the doors and directed voters to the correct lines.
The 21-year-old senior has spent time working with Terps Vote, which recently held a text banking event to remind students — who Marquez said can be susceptible to procrastinating on making a plan to vote — of the various voting deadlines in Maryland.
The biggest question the volunteers received during text banking was whether individuals could vote at the Xfinity Center, she said.
“We’ve had amazing feedback," Marquez said. “So many people we texted said they had already voted.”
Pines is hopeful the university will continue hosting the early voting site in future elections. In the meantime, the university also is preparing for the election results and working on a plan to reduce anxiety on campus.
“I haven’t seen much tension yet, but I think it’s coming,” Pines said. “We’re prepared, sensing the tension. We’ve been trying to educate our students about spaces where they can have these conversations.”
The university set up a website for its campus community, advising on safe spaces to protest and mental health resources. It also provided faculty with suggested lesson plans if they determine students express a strong desire to discuss the outcome of the presidential election.
Baltimore Sun reporters Daniel Oyefusi and Liz Bowie contributed to this article.