October 4, 2006
Registration Drives Go Down to the Wire
By Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer
As voter registration deadlines edge closer in several states, groups as varied as Rock the Vote, Focus on the Family, MySpace.com and Wal-Mart are stepping up campaigns to encourage more people to go to the polls Nov. 7.
While none of the registration drives promotes specific candidates, many of the states targeted by get-out-the-voter groups have congressional, gubernatorial and statehouse races and a surge of new voters could make a difference.
Click here for Stateline.org's state-by-state listing of voter registration deadlines, voter identification requirements and polling hours. To see all of Stateline.org's 2006 election coverage, including an interactive election guide, click here .
Several drives, with an eye toward tech-savvy youngsters, allow would-be voters to use cell phones and text messages to get registration forms. For example, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) in September kicked off his own drive at a New Hampshire high school using TxtVoter , a service created by Mobile Voter that allows people to request a voter registration form via text message. To pique students' interest, Warner, who co-founded the company that became Nextel before becoming governor, is staging a contest that will award iPods to those who motivate the most family and friends to register. The contest is being sponsored by Warner's political action committee, Forward Together.
MySpace.com, the free online social network popular with young people, is running ads to encourage members to register in partnership with "Declare Yourself," a nonpartisan organization formed in 2004 to enlist more young people to vote in the presidential election. MySpace.com offers online "I Registered to Vote on MySpace" badges that members can put on their "profile" pages with links making it easier for others to register.
Wal-Mart kicked off its nationwide registration campaign Sept. 29 in Iowa, the state that traditionally hosts the first presidential primary in the nation every four years and this year is the focus of tight governor and statehouse races.The country's largest employer said it would provide state-specific voter registration forms nationwide to all 1.3 million store, club, and distribution center employees. Wal-Mart also said it also would distribute voting educational materials from the League of Women Voters.
The giant retailer noted when it announced its registration drive that it employs a significant number of workers "in states that play pivotal roles in national elections," including 94,163 employees in Florida, 49,724 in Ohio, 47,904 in Pennsylvania, 17,273 in Iowa and 7,933 in New Hampshire.
The Colorado-based Focus on the Family has voter registration efforts under way in at least eight states: Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Tennessee, according to published reports. Nima Reza, a spokesman for the organization, declined to comment. The organization promotes what it calls conservative Christian values, including marriage between a man and a woman and strict anti-abortion policies.
Text messages, hip hop radio stations and birthday greetings to newly eligible-to-vote 18-year-olds are ways a dozen advocacy groups coordinated by Young Voter Strategies said they hope to sign up 350,000 young people and minorities in several key states in time for Election Day. The umbrella group is a project of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University and receives $3 million from The Pew Charitable Trusts, which also funds Stateline.org.
Here is a sampling of other voter registration campaigns under way:
- Allegheny College's Center for Political Participation is recruiting and training student leaders at 15 community colleges in Ohio and Pennsylvania to register new voters on campus and in their communities.
- Black Youth Vote! , a project of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation , aims to register 18- to 30-year-old African-Americans in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan and Texas.
- National Council of La Raza , a civil rights advocacy organization, is working to register young voters in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
- State Public Interest Research Groups , (PIRGs), which says it registered 524,000 young adults in 2004 , is targeting students at colleges and universities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin.
- Rock the Vote , the nonprofit that says it registered 1. 2 million young voters in the last presidential election, is targeting young people in Arizona, California, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
- Voto Latino , co-founded by actress Rosario Dawson , is trying to sign up new Latino voters in California, Florida, Illinois and New York
- Women's Voices is working to sign up women in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington state, including a "Women Votes' Birthday program" that mails birthday cards and voter registration forms to young women when they turn 18 and are legal to vote
While the technology and techniques for enlisting new voters may be different, some registration drives raise familiar concerns. Voter rights groups, for example, say college students still run into a patchwork of voter registration requirements that can make registration for college students difficult.
College students, who often spend part of the year living on campus and the other with their parents in another city, must meet the same state residency requirements as everyone else. But it's illegal for state or local authorities to require students to provide more information than anyone else, explained Jonah Goldman who works on voting rights projects for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.
The registration drives under way in churches have garnered particular attention from the Internal Revenue Service. In a February report , the IRS found that during the 2004 elections, churches frequently ran afoul of rules limiting churches, charities and other tax-exempt organizations from partisan political activity.
The advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced plans Sept. 18 to mail special election-year alerts to 117,000 clergy in 11 states where it claimed conservative religious leaders seek "to build a church-based political machine on behalf of favored Republican candidates." The letters were sent to houses of worship in Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Missouri and Virginia.