Newly registered voters often don’t show up

Thursday, October 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:43 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

It’s hard enough to register a new voter, but now that Missouri’s registration deadline has passed, getting that person to vote is a whole other challenge.

“Everyone should vote,” said Paul Sloca, spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party. “We have soldiers in Iraq and others who have fought in world wars to protect our right to vote. It’s one of the cornerstones in our democracy. … Voting is a very important responsibility.”

This plea, however, fails to resonate with many voters. Sixty-seven percent of registered voters made it to the polls in the 2000 presidential elections, according to the Federal Elections Commission.

Missouri — with 61 percent of registered voters casting ballots in 2000 — lagged slightly behind the national average.

MU political science professor John Petrocik said turnout among newly registered voters is even lower.

“Recent registrants, especially those registered through organizational effort, require follow-up efforts on Election Day,” Petrocik said. “The payoff to a registration effort may be minimal if the get-out-the-vote plan doesn’t include getting registrants to the polls on Election Day.”

That’s what the non-partisan Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition, or Pro-Vote, learned in 2000. The non-partisan organization registered public transit riders in St. Louis and found in a follow-up study that turnout among voters they registered lagged behind the average for the St. Louis area by about 5 percent.

That same study, however, showed that turnout among voters whom Pro-Vote re-contacted as part of a get-out-the-vote effort was nearly 10 percent higher than among voters they weren’t able to follow up with.

Michelle Greene, Pro-Vote’s mid-Missouri coordinator, said her organization, which has registered more than 2,000 voters in this region and an additional 60,000 voters in St. Louis, will target these voters with four separate mailings, with phone calls and with home visits.

“We’ll be knocking on people’s doors and making sure that they understand what is on the ballot,” Greene said. “Some people have never cast ballots before, either, so we’ll be showing them an actual ballot and explaining to them how they will vote.”

This is the traditional get-out-the-vote effort that will be replicated across the county in the days leading up to the election, perhaps with the help of some high-tech gadgets.

“It’s old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning with 21st century technology,” said Sloca, referring to the Palm Pilots canvassers are using to track would-be voters.

No high-tech gadget, however, can predict what the effect of these get-out-the-vote efforts will be on the election’s outcome.

Experts expect the number of voters to far exceed 2000’s record 150 million voters. Sloca said the large turnout traditionally favors Republicans. Many voter-registration drives focused on underrepresented populations, such as young adults, racial minorities and the poor, which will likely favor Democrats, Greene said.

Petrocik said research has rarely shown that high voter turnout favors one party over the other, however. At least, that’s been true in the past.

“New registrants may cause problems for the turnout predictors because most predictors discount recent registrants,” Petrocik said.

The election is Nov. 2. To see what’s on the ballot, go to the Boone County Clerk’s Web site at

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