Sunday, October 03, 2004

Strength in Numbers 

A question for those whose whose experience on the hustings is more extensive than our own: do voter-registration numbers tend to swell in years when the electorate is generally contented with its leadership? From the NYT:
record surge of potential new voters has swamped boards of election from Pennsylvania to Oregon, as the biggest of the crucial swing states reach registration deadlines today. Elections officials have had to add staff and equipment, push well beyond budgets and work around the clock to process the registrations.

In Montgomery County, Pa., the elections staff has been working nights and weekends since the week before Labor Day to process the crush of registrations - some 32,000 since May and counting. Today is the deadline for registering new voters in Pennsylvania, as well as Ohio, Michigan, Florida and 12 other states, and election workers will go on mandatory overtime to chip away at the thousands of forms that have been arriving daily. To help in the effort, the Montgomery office has also added 12 computers, 15 phone lines and 12 workers from other departments - as well as one of the technicians whose usual job is fixing voting machines at the warehouse.

Across the county line in Philadelphia, overtime and weekend duty began in July to deal with what is now the highest number of new voter registrations in 21 years. The office says it is still six days behind the flow, and the last two days have brought about 10,500 new registration forms. At 204,000, the number of new registrations has already surpassed that of the last big year, 1992, which had 193,000.

"The vote was so close four years ago, people are now thinking, hey, maybe my vote does count," said Joseph R. Passarella, the director of voter services in Montgomery County. Al Gore won in Pennsylvania in 2000 by 204,840 votes.

Officials across the country report similar patterns.

"Everything we're seeing is that there has been a tremendous increase in voter registration," said Kay Maxwell, president of the League of Women Voters. "In the past, we've been enthused about what appeared to be a large number of new voters, but this does seem to be at an entirely different level."

Registration numbers are impossible to tally nationwide, and how many of the newly registered will vote is a matter of some debate. But it is clear the pace is particularly high in urban areas of swing states, where independent Democratic groups and community organizations have been running a huge voter registration campaign for just over a year. The parties have been registering voters as well, with Republicans especially active in critical states in an effort to counter the independent groups . . . .

These nonpartisan community groups, as well as Democratic organizations like America Coming Together, have driven most of the increase, registration officials say. In Florida and Ohio, Republicans have mounted moderately successful campaigns that have increased registration in suburban communities.

But the huge gains have come in areas with minority and low-income populations. In some of those areas in Ohio, new registrations have quadrupled from 2000. President Bush won in Ohio in 2000 by 165,019 votes.

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