Voter registration swelling

Thursday, September 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:05 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

There is the sign that some November candidates realize Missouri's voting power: numerous visits across the state and incessant radio and TV ads. Then there is the sign that Missourians appreciate their own power: mounting stacks of white paper in Wendy Noren’s office.

“Every indication is that we’re going to have a record registration year,” Noren, the Boone County clerk, said. During the first half of the year, Noren received 15,441 new voter registration and change of address forms, more than twice the 6,074 forms she received during the same time period in the 2000 presidential elections.

“The first six months of this year just boggled my mind,” said Noren, who has evaluated elections as county clerk since 1982.

“I haven’t seen anything like this — it’s not just about the forms we’re getting, but it’s the talk, too,” she said. “When you get people in their 60s and it’s the first time they’re registering to vote, you know there is something there.”

In 2000, a slim margin of Missourians — approximately 79,000 out of a total of 2.3 million voters for the two main candidates — pushed President George W. Bush into office. The margin was so low that 16 voters per precinct in another direction would have changed the outcome.

But that wasn’t the closest race in Missouri that year. Gov. Bob Holden barely edged his opponent, Jim Talent. Just five voters per precinct in another direction would have changed the outcome.

Noren said in her experience, the number one reason for high turnout at the polls is the closeness of the races. Other significant factors are the number and importance of races.

The presidential election is tight, with polls showing the two major candidates at a statistical tie in Missouri. Polls also show a close race for governor between Secretary of State Matt Blunt and State Auditor Claire McCaskill.

“There are several reasons why I think voter registration is up this year,” said Liz Schmidt, secretary of the local League of Women Voters. “First, every four years, voter registration numbers go up with the presidential election. Second, this year just has a lot of candidates on the ballot, so you’re getting all that hype and advertising that people see. Third, there’s just a lot more money out there this year and as such there’s a lot more getting-out-the-vote movements around town.”

One of those get-out-the-vote movements, Voting Is Power, has about 40 people canvassing Columbia. Ruthanne Buck, the group’s Missouri Director , said they recently registered 1,300 people in five days in Columbia. They are targeting groups historically underrepresented at the polls, including African Americans and low-income individuals.

This year, Boone County residents will vote for as many as 16 federal, state and county offices in addition to other items such as city propositions. The Boone County Clerk’s office will mail a sample ballot to each registered voter before the election.

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