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Inside Politics

New voter signups could make history

By Diane DeVore
CNN

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Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focuses on registering 18-to-30-year-olds.
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(CNN) -- This election is very close. But that may be where the similarity between Kerry vs. Bush and Bush vs. Gore ends and the similarity to Johnson vs. Goldwater begins.

According to The Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, overall voter registration will likely hit 71 percent this election, compared with 68 percent in 2000.

If so, it would be the highest since 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater, and voter registration was 72.1 percent.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit research group expects that when final figures are tallied, more than 143 million citizens will be registered -- a whopping 10 million more than in 2000.

According to the Federal Election Commission, barely half of Americans old enough to vote -- 51 percent -- showed up to cast a ballot in 2000. This time around things promise to be very different. The push is on.

Will dissatisfaction with the current administration drive people to the polls in droves? Will concerns about a potential Kerry administration do the same? Are Americans still haunted by hanging chad, recounts and legal challenges?

The Committee for the Study of the American Electorate suggests two motivations. First, a large number of citizens younger than 30 have been registered this year, and second, "... the misalignment of the two parties are driving more people towards independent status."

Perhaps the most visible get-out-the-vote effort is Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused on registering the 18-to-30-year-old set. To date, 1,433,569 more young Americans are registered to vote than in 2000.

"I think we made it easy, and I think the big goal for us was to make it accessible and put it in as many places as possible that young people would be spending their time on the Net," Rock the Vote President Jehmu Greene told CNN.com.

With its hundreds of partners (including Time Warner, of which CNN.com is a division) it's hard to miss the distinctive red checkmark.

"On November 2, we will make history as far as how many people turn out, but I think we also have a real opportunity to focus whoever wins, their attention, on actually addressing and responding to the concerns that drove these voters to turn out, and that will be what's truly historic," she said.

It's not just America's young people who are being courted. The message to get out and vote is being translated in many languages in many communities.

Take Dearborn, Michigan, for instance, where the Arab American Institute is encouraging the city's significant Middle Eastern population to "Yalla Vote." "Yalla" is Arabic for "Come on."

Rock the Vote has a Spanish version of its Web site, and the National Council of La Raza encourages Hispanic Americans to "Act, Participate, Vote."

In the battleground state of Ohio, communities traditionally ignored by politicians are sharing the media spotlight.

"I think that one of the things that's fascinating about this election and all the get-out-the-vote stuff is that people are realizing that there are portions of the electorate that perhaps both parties have given up on a long time ago because they're not quick-and-easy voters. You have to work harder," said Earl Pike, executive director of the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland.

His group is organizing an effort to help get some of Cleveland's 2,300 HIV-positive residents to the polls, enlisting drivers including Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Cunningham.

Meanwhile, on another political battlefront, there's something to be proud of: Dearborn City Clerk Kathleen Buda has met her deadline. Every voter has his registration card, and "I'm delighted," she says.

However, she thinks the 2000 election left a stain on the electoral process.

"For whatever reason there seems to be the seed of conspiracy planted in a lot of the absentee voters' minds such as, 'Well, I heard you're only going to count these absentee ballots if the race is close.' ... I seem to be hearing it more this election, and I'm sorry, but I blame it on Florida," Buda told CNN.com.

Of course the mission of this collective voter registration campaign is twofold; it doesn't do any good to be registered and not cast a ballot. Voter turnout is a story waiting to be written.

"I think that not only are more than 20 million young people going to surge to the polls, but candidates are really courting this vote in the small number of states that it's come down to that can really decide the election -- it's going to be these youth voters," Greene said.


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