Voter registration intensifies as deadline looms

With little more than six weeks to go, voter outreach and registration drives are hitting a crescendo before Georgia voters cast their ballots in the Nov. 6 presidential election.

Registration numbers obtained from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office show increases in voters both out-state and in core metro Atlanta counties. More than 36,000 people joined the state’s rolls between Aug. 1 and Sept. 1, bringing the total to 5.2 million voters.

County election officials said interest is high since both political parties held their nominating conventions around Labor Day, with many predicting a registration surge into next month.

Georgians have until Oct. 9 to register to vote in the general election, although the first ballots went out Friday to voters casting absentee ballots by mail. Many groups, partisan and nonpartisan, will press to get people’s attention over the next two weeks.

“We win if Republicans and independents get out to vote. We lose if we stay home,” Georgia GOP chairwoman Sue Everhart said. “They say bumper stickers are worth 10 votes. My goal is to put a million bumper stickers on cars in Georgia.”

Secretary of State Brian Kemp, like his peers nationwide, has declared September National Voter Registration Month to encourage participation and increase awareness of state requirements and deadlines for voting.

And although it will come too late for November, Kemp plans next year to enable online voter registration.

According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, despite record-breaking registration and voter turnout in many states for the 2008 presidential election, six million potential voters did not cast a ballot because they missed a registration deadline or did not know how to register.

State officials could not immediately say how many of those potential voters were from Georgia. But the overall interest in the 2008 election can be seen in the numbers: At the start of September 2008, the state reported 4.8 million registered voters. By the day of the election, it had 5.7 million registered voters.

About 71 percent of the state’s eligible voting-age residents — those 18 and older — had registered for that election, matching the 2008 national average.

The dip in the rolls between four years ago and now could be attributable to anything from deaths to voters moving out of state. Still, it looks like Georgia’s current figures will go nowhere but up .

Grass-roots organizers are busy, too, including nonpartisan groups such as Atlanta Voters United, which sponsored a voter registration drive Tuesday at Clark Atlanta University after the institution’s fall convocation.

Most if not all of the 139 people who registered at the event were students too young to vote in 2008.

“The message I hope they get is to be engaged and to have their voice heard,” said Delmar Whittington, an Atlanta Voters United organizer. “We don’t care who they vote for — as long as they vote.”

That same message is being carried by election officials, many of who have ramped up outreach and education efforts as the election looms.

In DeKalb County, elections director Maxine Daniels had at least three events scheduled just this week to talk to residents about the voting process and registration. Tuesday night, more than 70 people showed up at the county election office for a two-hour, after-work workshop about voting.

Daniels talked about the ins and outs of registration, as well as peripheral issues including various rumors and myths about which she receives email daily. One rumor has suggested voters are purged from rolls if they haven’t voted since 2008. Daniels said voters are not purged before at least eight consecutive years of not voting and, even then, officials try to confirm what happened.

Lithonia resident Malva Hubbard, who volunteered locally in 2008 in support of President Barack Obama, attended Tuesday’s class. She said her work four years ago was one of the best experiences in her life. She said she was committed to duplicating the effort this year, inspired by her father, who helped organize voters in the 1960s.

“People should vote because it’s our birthright as Americans,” Hubbard said. “As a black person, knowing blacks were denied for so long, there’s no excuse.”

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