Voter-registration drive focuses on bus riders

Volunteers take registration cards on city buses to reach low-income residents
Tuesday, April 13, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:55 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

Volunteers are taking to the streets in an attempt to get Columbia Transit riders registered to vote.

Grass Roots Organizing, with the city of Columbia’s support, will have volunteers with voter registration forms ride city buses today and Wednesday.

“We’re trying a different approach to reaching people,” organizer Mary Hussmann said. “We heard people had done it in Kansas City and St. Louis, and it was successful.”

The volunteers, including First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton, will ride during the bus routes’ peak hours and try to catch transit users on their ways to and from work. Today, they’ll start after an 8:15 a.m. press conference, ride until 10 a.m., then reboard the buses between 2 and 6 p.m. On Wednesday, they’ll ride from 6:45 to 10 a.m. and again from 2 to 6 p.m.

“Those who ain’t had a chance to vote because they’re too busy, maybe we can give them a chance to fill out their paperwork so they can vote,” Grass Roots member Willie Foster said.

Grass Roots, a not-for-profit organization in mid-Missouri since October 2000, has a goal of registering 2,000 eligible voters before Oct. 6, the last day to register for the Nov. 2 general election. Its effort to register bus riders is part of its involvement in the Missouri Voter Issue Project, or MO-VIP.

“We’re committed to voter registration,” Hussmann said. “We’re going to intensify that effort.”

Hussmann said the group’s members have gone door-to-door in an attempt to reach their goal.

Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren welcomed Grass Roots’ efforts. “In this day and age, we have to go to people to register them,” she said.

Only 17.3 percent of the county’s 97,000 registered voters participated in last week’s municipal elections. Noren said those figures are somewhat misleading because about 28,000 of Boone County’s registered voters are inactive. Many of them have moved out of Boone County or have not updated their place of residence — a voting requirement.

“We’re not only trying to get people registered, but we’re going to try to find the 10,000 or 15,000 people who need their addresses updated,” Noren said.

Hussmann said focusing on the transit system will help people with lower incomes register.

“The voter turnout in mid-Missouri has been very low recently,” Hussmann said, “but people of low-income are even less represented than that, and they deserve to be heard.”

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