Voter registration groups in Missouri claiming success

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- After a summer of knocking on doors and staffing booths at town festivals, political groups are claiming big successes in signing up new voters for the Nov. 2 election.

The actual results will be known soon. Today is the last day for Missourians to register to vote on Election Day.

The race between President Bush and his Democratic challenger, John Kerry, appears to be driving much of the interest.

"People see how close this race is going to be and they also see what happened in 2000, and they know that every single vote is going to count," said Sara Howard, a spokeswoman for the Democratic-leaning voter registration group America Coming Together, or ACT.

"There are a lot of people who might otherwise not have registered but for the fact they see how high the stakes are this year," Howard said.

ACT has employed more than 300 door-to-door canvassers in predominantly Democratic precincts to try to sign up new voters. The Missouri Republican Party, meanwhile, has offered a $3 incentive to its local political groups for each voter they register.

"The goal was to sign up 50,000 voters, and we believe we've met that goal and slightly exceeded that goal," said Missouri Republican Party spokesman Paul Sloca.

Howard said that in areas targeted by ACT canvassers -- St. Louis city and county; Kansas City and Jackson County; Greene County; and Boone County -- 121,600 new voters have been registered since July 2003. Two-thirds of those are in the St. Louis area.

But comparing registration totals can sometimes be difficult.

For example, figures supplied by the secretary of state's office show more than 3.5 million Missouri voters were registered as of the Aug. 3 primary election. That was down about 170,000 from the November 2002 election and down almost 350,000 from the last presidential election in November 2000.

In each general election year, local election officials are supposed to clean up the registration rolls by mailing confirmation cards to voters. If the cards get returned as undeliverable, election officials are to mail a notice that can be forwarded to a new address. If the voters' mailing addresses still cannot be confirmed -- and they have not voted in the past two general elections -- they are supposed to be dropped from the rolls, said Terri Durdaller, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office.

So it is typical for voter registration rolls to dip and then rise again in an election year.

Preliminary voter registration results provided by the secretary of state's office show that, as of Monday, many counties were reporting increases in their voter registration rolls since the August primary.

St. Louis County, for example, reported 651,246 registered voters, up 19,195 since the primary and 33,097 from the November 2002 election but still far below the 726,325 voters registered for the November 2000 election.

The 2000 presidential election was decided by just hundreds or thousands of votes in several states, ultimately hinging on the outcome of an especially close count in Florida.

Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore in Missouri by 78,786 votes out of 2.36 million cast.

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