Groups demand speedy action to protect vote

The broad-based coalition seeking to defeat George W. Bush has registered millions of new voters and the flood continues, swamping state election boards even as deadlines near for signing people up.

Just one of many groups, Rock the Vote, reports it has registered 789,905 new voters. The League of Women Voters marked National Voter Registration Week, Sept. 15, with a warning by its president, Kay J. Maxwell, that the flood has created a backlog that, if not cleared, could mean the disenfranchisement of thousands of newly registered voters.

“This may mark National Voter ‘Rejection’ Week,” she charged. “There is more work to be done after the citizen fills out the voter registration application. The application must be acted on by the appropriate government entity in a timely manner and in a way that enfranchises eligible voters.” She called on election boards to hire more personnel to process the backlog.

The NAACP, People for the American Way and other groups affiliated with the Election Protection Coalition (EPC) charged that Duval County, Fla., election officials are threatening to terminate processing of voter registration forms the last week of September, even though Florida’s deadline is Oct. 4. In the stolen 2000 election, 27,000 Duval County votes, mostly cast by African Americans, were thrown out.

Sabrina Williams, a spokesperson for the Advancement Project, one of the EPC groups, told the World, “We will file a complaint with Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood and then go into mediation with Duval County election officials to get this resolved. This problem is not limited to Duval County. There were complaints by voters in Miami-Dade and Broward counties that they were denied a chance to vote in Florida’s August 31 primary because their registrations were not processed.”

Vicky Beasley, a field officer for People for the American Way, told Reuters that the problem is particularly serious in the swing states: “There is a very widespread delay in the swing states because there have been massive registration drives among minorities and those applications are not being processed quickly enough.”

An estimated 250,000 Ohioans have registered over the past year. In Cuyahoga County alone, which encompasses Cleveland, the backlog of applications at one point reached 25,000. The labor movement and its allies demanded that the Board of Elections put on more personnel. They were and the backlog now is down to about 6,000.

The problem is that the 2004 election has energized millions who sat out elections in past years. Only 52 percent, or about 102 million, of those eligible to vote cast ballots in the 2000 election. America Votes, a coalition of 33 organizations with combined membership of 20 million, points out that 50 million eligible women did not vote in 2000. So on Sept. 18, “Election Action Day,” the coalition filled 50 buses with volunteers who fanned out in 17 battleground states to register thousands of women to vote.

“We’re still compiling the numbers from the Saturday effort,” said America Votes spokesperson Sarah Leonard. “We had hundreds of volunteers in Philadelphia and Manchester, New Hampshire who registered thousands of new voters. Nationwide, we’ve registered hundreds of thousands of new voters.”

Joelle Fishman, chair of the Political Action Commission of the Communist Party USA, said the Bush-Cheney campaign “wants everybody to believe the election is already over. Dirty tricks and voter suppression tactics are being used to discourage people. But that strategy is backfiring. Across the country, millions of people are determined to protect our democracy and expand it.” The movement, she said, must work vigilantly to protect the vote. “We demand that every voter registration application be processed before November 2, so that every vote can be cast and counted.”

The Denver-based, nonpartisan New Voter Project (NVP) has the goal of signing up 265,000 new voters between the ages of 18 and 24. So far they have registered 242,697 new voters.

The group’s spokesman, Adam Alexander, told the World, “There are 500,000 people 18 to 24 years old in Wisconsin. To date, we have registered 120,000 new voters. It means we have signed up 20 percent of the people in that age bracket. If you walk down a street in Wisconsin and see five young people standing together, we registered one of them to vote.”

NVP, he said, has hundreds of full time staff and thousands of interns working to increase the youth vote across the nation. Historically, low percentages of youth have voted since 1972, when the voting age was reduced to 18. “Young people have been a neglected part of the political landscape. But we think this year we will break out of that cycle. We believe we’re going to see an unprecedented youth vote.”

Jane Fleming, executive director of Young Democrats of America and spokesperson for the Young Voter Alliance (YVA), told the World, “The candidates must speak to the issues that concern youth. They are the largest group without health insurance, the hardest hit by unemployment. They are the ones fighting and dying in Iraq. Many young people see it as an unjust war.”

The YVA, she said, is mounting a major get-out-the-vote drive in Florida, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, she said.

“It is not enough to register them to vote,” she said. “We have to have a strong effort to get them to the polls on Election Day.”

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