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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
Other efforts to help ensure Election Day runs smoothly for voters are underway, including the National Campaign for Fair Elections' hotline, 1-866-OURVote. The line has already received up to 4,000 calls a day, according to New York Times blog, The Caucus. The group plans to have 20 call centers set up around the country by Tuesday with a capacity of handling 100,000 calls on Election Day.
“The notion behind the non-partisan National Campaign phone line is that if problems erupt at polling places on Election Day, the group will have lawyers at the ready to respond to the complaints,” the Times reports.
“So far, most calls have been from voters experiencing problems with their registration along with those trying to locate their polling place, according to Ken Smukler, president of InfoVoter Technologies, the Bala Cynwyd, Pa.company that which manages the call system.”
Among those who will benefit from the voter protection hotline and other precautions learned are the large numbers of new voters around the country. Since 2004, voter registration rose 15 percent in Orange County, Calif. where citizens were allowed to register at a drive-thru elections office window last week, according to the Associated Press. Alabama has 76,000 new voters since 2004, two thirds of whom are African-American, according to the Mobile Register-Press. Last week, two thousand voters registered on a street corner in Kansas, about a quarter of whom were ex-felons who until then thought they were ineligible to vote, according to MSNBC. Newly naturalized Latino and Asian citizens in Los Angeles County doubled last year's registration rate with 64,000 new voters this year, according to the Los Angeles Times. Up until last week, community groups were “walking precincts, conducting phone banks, holding forums, and distributing multilingual voter guides” to help new citizens become a part of the democratic process.
Historically, Latino, Asian, and African-American citizens have registered and voted at alarmingly lower rates than their White counterparts. In 2006, just 41 percent of African-Americans and 32 percent of Asians and Latinos, respectively, voted in the midterm election compared to 52 percent of Whites, according to Project Vote report, Representational Bias of the 2006 Electorate. But that may just be changing this year.
“We want people to know we're here and our next generation is going to be very important in the process,” said recently naturalized citizen, Carlos Romero in the Los Angeles Times.
In Other News:
In Ohio, Wary Eyes On Election Process: Fears of Fraud and Blocked Votes – Washington Post
CLEVELAND — With Ohio still up for grabs in next week's presidential election, the conversation here has expanded from who will carry the state to how — the nitty-gritty of registration lists, voting machines, court challenges and whether it all will play out fairly.
Provisional Ballots Get Uneven Treatment – Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON — Provisional ballots, one of the fixes the government implemented following the disputed 2000 election, are often proving to be a poor substitute for the real thing.
Erin Ferns is a Research and Policy Analyst with Project Vote.