Wearing “GRO THE VOTE” buttons, warm jackets and boots while holding clipboards, volunteers boarded city buses early Friday morning. About 12 hours later, they had registered 60 Columbia residents to vote.
Mary Hussmann, organizer for Grass Roots Organizing, a nonprofit organization out of Mexico, Mo., said that GRO works primarily with low-income Columbia residents. Friday’s effort, called “Ride and Register,” was an attempt by 15 volunteers to reach residents that might not take the time to register otherwise.
“Voter registration is a key thing for GRO,” Hussmann said. “Voting is a good start, but it’s not nearly enough.”
GRO registered more than 3,000 people to vote last year. In 2004, the organization did its first “Ride and Register,” which lasted two days. During that effort, the volunteers registered 75 residents.
“I think this is a good idea because we have nothing else to do while we’re sitting here,” said Rob Bailey, a resident registered during the ride. “If you get more registered voters, you get more registered opinions.”
Not a lot of people know where to go to register, volunteer Pam Forbes said. If you don’t have a car, like most people who use public transportation, it’s that much harder to get to a place to register, she said.
“I registered on the bus last year,” Columbia resident Garry Kinnecom said. “I wouldn’t have done it otherwise because a lot of places that you go to register you need a car.”
Forbes said that she doesn’t know how many people she has registered over the years but said the number is in the hundreds.
“Politically, this is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Forbes said. “It’s the thing with the most impact. It’s a right that they’re going to have for the rest of their lives.”
Forbes said last year she was going door-to-door registering people. She remembered registering a young woman.
For information about polling places and how to register to vote, go to showmeboone.com/clerk.
Later, the day of the 2006 national election, Forbes, along with other GRO volunteers, went back to the same neighborhood surveying the people they registered to see whether they voted.
Forbes asked the young woman, “Did you go out to vote today?”
The young woman proudly patted a “I Voted” sticker on her chest and said, “Yes, I did.”
“And I thought, ‘That’s why I do this,’” Forbes said. “She summed this whole thing up for me.”
Volunteer Lily Chan used to volunteer with the Democratic Party before she started with GRO. She said that people trust GRO volunteers more because they see the organization’s cause as their own cause.
The people see GRO’s effort as legitimate, Chan said, because the city is helping to promote the effort.
The city of Columbia provided daylong bus passes for the volunteers, Hussmann said.
Some residents present expressed confusion about whether voter identification cards are needed in order to vote.
The law concerning voting identification cards was changed over a year ago, Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren said.
“Registered voters will receive a notification letter and a sample ballot before every election,” Noren said.
Only one acceptable form of identification, such as a driver’s license or birth certificate, is necessary in order to vote, Noren said.
GRO volunteers will again be registering people during the True/False Film Festival. Volunteers will be downtown on March 1 and 2.