Over 1.3 million new low-income, minority, and young Americans registered nationwide!

Yesterday, as voter registration deadlines passed in most states, Project Vote, the nation’s leading nonpartisan voter participation organization, and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the country’s largest community organization, held a news conference to announce the completion of a joint nonpartisan voter registration drive, which has succeeded in helping over 1.3 million Americans register to vote. To listen to the conference in its entirety, please click here

The joint effort, which Project Vote Executive Director Michael Slater described as “the largest and most comprehensive drive in the history of our two organizations”, was conducted in a total of 21 states, with the largest efforts focusing on 16 states, including AZ, CA, CO, CT, Fl, KY, LA, MI, MN, MO, NV, NM, OH, PA, TX, and WI. While final numbers were still being tallied, Slater said that the largest state-by state successes included:

–over 148,000 in Pennsylvania,

–152,000 registrations in Florida,

–over 217,000 in Michigan, and

–over 238,000 in Ohio.

The goal of the nonpartisan voter registration drive-estimated to cost $18 million-was to help close the existing gaps in the American electorate, particularly among low-income Americans, minorities, and youth, all of whom have historically been underrepresented at the polls.

According to Bertha Lewis, Interim Chief Organizer of ACORN, the majority of the 1.3 million registrants are low- to-moderate income people, 60-70 percent are African American or Latino, and over half are under the age of 30. Lewis said the ultimate goal was to change the face of the electorate and permanently empower the Americans who are most affected by policy decisions.

“We think it is important that the voices in our community get heard,” said Lewis. “This isn’t just about going into the voting booth, but it’s actually about strengthening democracy and instilling an ongoing commitment to effect real change.”

This Election Day is expected to see record turnout at the polls, and ACORN board member Carmen Arias, a longtime voting rights advocate, confirmed that the energy and enthusiasm this year is at an all-time high.

“In 2004 we were met with apathy,” Arias said. “We had to convince people to register to vote. This year we were met with excitement: people are excited to have an opportunity to have a say in solving the foreclosure crisis, and the healthcare crisis. They’re eager to have politicians listen to them.”

Slater and Lewis both agreed that empowering voters to have their voices heard by their political leaders is what it’s all about. “Our belief, fundamentally, is that by expanding the electorate, by changing its profile, we will get candidates who will start to appeal to those new voters,” said Slater. “The idea isn’t to assist, whether overtly or covertly, the election of any single candidate, but to force candidates to take into account the interests of Americans who have not historically participated in as high rates as others and to start pursuing policies and programs that are more responsive to their needs.”

Responding to questions, Lewis rejected the suggestion that the nonpartisan voter registration drive had a hidden partisan agenda, and emphasized the importance of empowering low-income communities and working families that have too long been ignored or taken for granted by both political parties.

“All of these politicians, I don’t care who they are-republicans, democrats, all of them-they need to compete for our vote and they need to be accountable,” Lewis said. “Because after the election, whoever gets in there has to deal with us.”

Project Vote also announced that they are conducting efforts to make sure that everyone who attempted to register actually gets on the rolls. Project Vote lead counsel Brian Mellor explained that the organization took a random sampling of ACORN registrations in nine states, covering 14 counties, and checked to make sure the applicants had in fact been added to the voter lists.

“We were happy to find that it appears that most applicants that ACORN submitted and verified appeared to be getting on the rolls,” said Mellor. “However, we do still see systematic problems,” particularly with state database matching requirements. “There is lots of evidence out there that database matching produces a lot of false negatives, with people who are legitimate voters not getting matched.”

“There are still thousands of Americans who believe they have completed a voter registration application and are registered to vote, but in fact are not,” said Mellor, who explained that many registrations are rejected due to incomplete information, confusing application forms, or address problems. Many would-be voters, in fact, may not discover they have been rejected until they arrive at the voting booth.

To give applicants an opportunity to repair their registrations in time to cast a ballot on November 4, Project Vote is conducting a program to acquire lists of rejected applications from boards of election and then to contact the voters by mail or by phone to inform them of their need to re-register.

To assist in this effort, Project Vote has launched a website, http://www.projectvote2008.org, which provides lists of voters in several states for people to check and see if they or their friends and neighbors have been left off the voter rolls due to common registration problems.

In his opening remarks Slater pointed out that the American system of voter registration-with few federal standards, and in which the burden of registration is placed on individuals-has often been used to disenfranchise voters.

“It wasn’t until the civil rights era that restrictive voter registration laws, challenged by protestors risking physical violence and even death, began to fall,” said Slater. “Today, the attacks on voter registration drives are more rhetorical than physical, but the point of contention is the same: the ability of Americans of color to cast a ballot.

“The work of Project Vote and ACORN continues a tradition of ensuring that all Americans can vote,” Slater said.

For more information on this and on the various Election Protection and voting rights work going on in the run-up to the election please contact:

Lacy MacAuley, lacy@massey-media.com, for Project Vote

Charles Jackson, communications@acorn.org, for ACORN