Leaders of the nationwide voter registration movement are reporting that millions of new voters have registered for the Nov. 2 election, breaking records. This has taken place especially in swing states like Ohio, where the determination to remove George W. Bush has inspired a record signup.
In Cuyahoga County alone, which includes Cleveland, 235,000 Ohioans have registered, more than double the number in 2000. That includes 100,000 people who registered for the first time.
“I think it is absolutely unprecedented both in the numbers of people who have registered and in the number of groups involved in the registration effort,” said Judy Gallo, co-convener of the Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition. “To the extent these newly registered voters turn out to vote — and are not disenfranchised — they will have a tremendous impact on the election in Ohio.”
Bush carried Ohio by only 165,019 votes in 2000. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the new registrations are 10 to 1 Democratic. John Kerry’s clear victory in the first televised debate has erased Bush’s lead nationally and narrowed it in Ohio.
Democratic vice presidential contender John Edwards slammed Dick Cheney during the sole vice presidential debate in Cleveland Oct. 5. Edwards pointed out that Ohio has lost more than 200,000 jobs since Bush took office and Cleveland has become the nation’s poorest city.
“A long resume does not equal good judgment,” Edwards said as Cheney scowled. “Mr. Vice President, I don’t think the country can take four more years of this kind of experience.”
Gallo said about 600 grassroots volunteers with her group registered 10,000 new voters, while the AFL-CIO, NAACP, America Coming Together, ACORN, and other groups signed up even more, concentrating on African Americans, Latinos, youth and women in working-class neighborhoods that vote Democratic but with low voter turnouts.
“Now we are focused on getting out the vote,” Gallo said. “We will put out a bulk mailing to every newly registered voter. We will phone-bank to everyone and also do door-to-door canvassing. We expect a high voter turnout.”
Jocelyn Travis, executive director of the Ohio Election Protection Coalition (OEPC), told the World, “It is a challenge with so many first-time voters. We have to make sure they understand the voting process. We are encouraging people to take their IDs to the poll to prevent people from having to vote with provisional ballots.”
Travis said the coalition wants voters to be familiar with the punch card and electronic voting machines so they are not intimidated when they get into the polling place.
“We have to make sure people know their voting rights,” she said. “For example, if you spoil a ballot, you have the right to ask for replacement ballots as many as three times.”
In Ohio, 69 out of 88 counties will use the old punch card machines because of the state’s non-compliance with a new law requiring a voter-verifiable paper trail on all electronic voting machines.
Travis said she has crisscrossed Ohio in recent months. “The numbers of new voters signing up is overwhelming,” she said.
“Not only young people but also senior citizens who feel a commitment to make their voices heard in this election. We’re finding that voters are being disenfranchised especially in African American and Latino precincts.” OEPC has recruited 2,000 volunteers and 300 lawyers to monitor polling places on Election Day.
Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the Madison-based Wisconsin League of Women Voters, told the World her state is one of six that permit Election Day registration.
“My own personal experience is that there is incredible interest in this election, much higher than in elections past. Registrations are up, especially in Democratic precincts. It’s pretty amazing. The question is whether they will vote.”
The Wisconsin League is partnering with Wisconsin Women Equal Prosperity in a series of candidate forums on the issue of women’s depressed economic status in the state. The aim is to encourage women to register and vote. In the 2000 election, 50 million women, disproportionately women of color and single mothers, did not vote.
Elizabeth Milner, president of the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, told the World, “It’s very heartening that so many people are registering. At our state headquarters [in Harrisburg] the phones were ringing off the hooks until yesterday’s deadline. All our locals were having massive voter registration drives.”
Philadelphia recorded 204,000 new voters, the highest number in 21 years. In neighboring Montgomery County, 32,000 new voters have signed up since May.
Milner said the election is now a “horse race” that could be a repeat of the 2000 election in which Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but Bush secured the Electoral College vote with the Supreme Court’s help.
“The League of Women Voters favors abolishing the Electoral College,” she said. “We can’t allow this to keep happening that the Electoral College chooses a candidate that did not win the popular vote.”
In Florida, another battleground state, ACORN announced it has registered 212,317 voters, including 61,000 in Miami-Dade and 31,581 in Broward.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org here for Spanish text