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Voters Eager to Have A Stake in Historical Election: Early Voting Predicts Strong Turnout Tuesday

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

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

By Erin Ferns

In the last two weeks voter registration and early voting has shown that voters are geared up and ready to take part in what has been called a "historical event" on November 4.

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Last week, voters scrambled to register at drive-thru election office windows in Southern California, busy street corners in Wichita, Kansas, and post-naturalization ceremonies in Los Angeles County. These efforts to meet the Oct. 20 registration deadlines in some states are seen as evidence of a surge in voter registration among historically underrepresented communities, including newly naturalized Latino and Asian citizens, and Black voters as well as formerly disenfranchised ex-felons.

This week, early vote turnout gave a sneak peek at what voters and election officials can expect at the polls on Tuesday, and it's "going to be busy as heck" said one official in Orange County, Calif., where registration rates went up 15 percent since 2004. To accommodate the high turnout, which is expected to exceed "the recent high-water mark in voter participation set in 2004," some states are taking precautionary measures, adding new machines and even extending early voting.

Experts predict "huge turnout" of as much as 132 million people, or 60.4 to 62.9 percent of eligible voters this year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The last presidential election brought 60.7 percent of eligible voters to the polls, "the highest since 1968, when 61.9 percent cast ballots." Election officials in many states, including Ohio, Arizona, New Mexico, and Minnesota, have predicted turnout as high as 80 percent.

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"We are going to have long lines," with some states expecting voting machine shortages, according to Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate. "But long lines in this election, as in 2004, are not going to deter people from voting, because of the emotional context of this election. They didn't deter people in 1992 or in 2004, and they're not going to deter people now."

Managing long lines has already been a point of contention in key states. In Georgia, voters waited four to five hours to cast early ballots on Wednesday, in spite of last minute changes Tuesday to reduce the eight hour waits voters encountered on Monday, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. A combination of "high turnout, staff and equipment shortages and state computer problems slowed the process."

Like Gans predicted, however, these issues are not stopping voters from showing up at the polls bright and early.

"It’s a historical event and I want to be part of it," said Hampton, Ga. voter, Dara Christian, who arrived at her precinct to be second in line shortly after 5 a.m. on Wednesday. According to a Tuesday AJC report, a million ballots had already been cast during more limited voting in the last few weeks. And about 125,095 of those were cast as of Tuesday night.

While officials in various counties addressed some of the problems by supplying extra equipment and staff, according Tuesday's AJC report, the Democratic Party and election officials are still pleading with Secretary of State Karen Handel to extend early voting in order to support high turnout, including state Democratic Party chairwoman Jane Kidd and DelKalb County Commissioner Lee May.

"It is not my intention to lay blame on any particular, person or body of government," May wrote in a letter to Handel and Ga. Governor Sonny Perdue. "It is my desire that we don’t inadvertently squelch the desire of so many Georgians to participate in the political process."
"Handel said Tuesday that Georgia law doesn’t include a mechanism to allow her or Perdue to extend early voting," according to AJC. Handel said that even if she could allow the extension, it would be a "logistical disaster," dismissing Kidd's plea an "orchestrated effort of that political party across the country."

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In Florida, on the other hand, after record turnout Monday,Governor Charlie Crist listened to similar concerns and signed an order to extend early voting hours  to 12 hours a day, over the objections of Secretary of State Kurt Browning, according to the Miami Herald.

"It's not a political decision," said Crist, a Republican. "It's a people decision."

In Broward and Miami-Dade counties alone, more than 43,000 people cast their votes Monday, "roughly 5,000 more than on any other previous day."

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