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Changing the Game: Voter Registration Drives Reshape the American Electorate

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Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

Monday marked the last day to register to vote before November's presidential election in many states and the conclusion to one of the nation's largest nonpartisan voter registration drives in history. Helping more than 1.3 million of the America's underrepresented young, low-income and minority citizens register to vote, Project Vote and its voter registration drive partner, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), have played a leading role this election cycle in changing the face of the electorate to represent all Americans.

In 2006, according to Project Vote study, "Representational Bias in the 2006 Electorate," the proportion of the U.S. population that was registered to vote was biased toward Whites and older, affluent and educated voters. Latino and Black citizens were less likely to be on the voting rolls, registering 17 and 10 percentage points, respectively, behind Whites. Lower income citizens, or those earning less than $25K per year, registered 21 percentage points (60%) behind  those earning $100K per year or more (81%). And in keeping with their long history of lagging voter registration and participation rates, voters under the age of 30 registered to vote at a fraction (51%) of the rate of those ages 30-64 (70%). The most stunning findings in the report were that if eligible minorities actually voted at the same rates as Whites, an extra 7.5 million votes would have been cast in 2006.

News articles from every corner of the country are reporting increased registration rates, pointing to a potentially "game-changing" reshaping of the electorate with voters feeling newly empowered to demand that elected officials address their issues. Election officials are predicting "it's going to be a tsunami of voters" on Election Day.

"In the past year, the rolls have expanded by about 4 million voters in a dozen key states," according to the Washington Post Monday. More than half of the 1.3 million that Project Vote helped register were in key states Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania, according to Richard Wolf of USA Today, 60 percent of which "are under 30 and about two-thirds are minorities." A driving motivation behind this rise in registrations, according to ACORN board member Carmen Arias, is the "faltering economy."

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"In 2004, we were met with apathy," Arias said in a press briefing Tuesday. "We had to convince people to register to vote. This year, we were met with excitement: people are excited to have an opportunity to have a say in solving the foreclosure crisis, and the health care crisis. They're eager to have politicians listen to them."

Elected officials listen to those who vote, and America's imbalanced electorate has effectively silenced millions of low-income citizens.

"We think it's important that the voices in our community get heard," said interim chief organizer of ACORN, Bertha Lewis. "This isn't just about going into the voting booth, but it's actually about strengthening democracy and instilling an ongoing commitment to effect real change."

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Reports from Colorado, Michigan, and Florida all note increased registration rates and spikes in last minute registrations. On Monday, a Denver elections office took 100 people per hour who poured in to register or apply for mail ballots before the deadline, according to Myuang Oak Kim of the Rocky Mountain News. Project Vote and ACORN's voter registration effort helped more than 70,000 Colorado voters get on the rolls.

In Michigan, 95 percent of eligible voters are registered, according to the Associated Press. Local clerks, who processed 217,000 applications from Project Vote, "are gearing up for what's expected to be a heavy turnout on Election Day," which may exceed the 68 percent that turned out in 2004. To accommodate the influx, secretary of state spokeswoman Kelly Chesney said her office has recommended increasing the number of voting stations to avoid long lines as well as develop separate lines for those who "are having issues with the state's relatively new voter ID requirements."

In Florida, 430,000 "younger, more ethnically diverse and more Democratic" voters joined the voter rolls since January, according to Michael Bender of the Palm Beach Post Saturday.  Project Vote and ACORN's efforts helped register152,000 of these voters.

"Everyone wants to be involved this year; they want to be a part of history," says Verna Hunter, a retired Fort Pierce, Fla. woman and long time local voter registration drive volunteer. "It's just a really inspirational time."

"Our belief, fundamentally, is that by expanding the electorate, by changing its profile, we will get candidates who will start to appeal to those new voters," said Project Vote Executive Director Michael Slater in Tuesday's press briefing. "The idea isn't to assist, whether overtly or covertly, the election of any single candidate, but to force candidates to take into account the interests of Americans who have not historically participated in as high rates as others and to start pursuing policies and programs that are more responsive to their needs."

The idea of new voters demanding different policies and programs is threatening to some entrenched powers, and many partisan attacks on voter participation programs and disinformation campaigns have already been launched with just less than four weeks to go until Election Day.

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Project Vote will be running a voter education and mobilization canvass in the run-up to Election Day to ensure that all of our registrants go out to the polls. In addition we are running an aggressive Election Administration program to fight partisan attempts to suppress the vote, and ensure that all eligible voters can cast a ballot and that those ballots will be counted. Please follow this link so that you can help support Project Vote's Get Out The Vote and Election Administration Program.


Quick Links:

Hess, Douglass R. "Representational Bias in the 2006 Electorate." Project Vote. Sept. 2007.

In Other News:

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