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Massive Voter Registration Drive Favors Democrats

  • Cindy Saine

The deadline to register to vote in next month's U.S. presidential election is Monday, October 6, 2008, in several closely fought states. Massive registration efforts have added some four million new voters to the rolls in 12 key "battleground" states, and figures show that Democratic candidate Barack Obama is set to benefit the most from the wave of first time voters. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.

Voter rolls have expanded dramatically in 11 states the Obama campaign has targeted that were won by Republican President George Bush in 2004, including Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, New Mexico and Virginia. Registration is also up in Pennsylvania, a state that Republican candidate John McCain has targeted, but was won by Democratic presidental candidate John Kerry in 2004.

In Florida, Democratic voter registration gains this year are more than double those made by Republicans. And in North Carolina, a Republican stronghold, the ratio has been 6 to 1 new voters registering as Democrats.

Virginia, a state that traditionally leans Republican, has non-partisan registration. But most of the newly-registered votes live in neighborhoods in the northern part of the state - Washington, D.C. suburbs that lean toward the Democrats.

Wesley Weidemann is the founder of the non-partisan citizens' group "Virginia Votes," an organization dedicated to strengthening the democratic process. He was standing at the top of a subway escalator in northern Virginia on Monday, giving would-be voters registration forms to fill out and mail in before the midnight deadline.

Weidemann says this year, the enthusiasm of people wanting to register to vote has dwarfed anything he has seen.

"The voter rolls in Virginia are going to be up approximately 400,000 to 420,000 additional voters," said Wesley Weidemann. "And then if you take all of the first time voters, it is going to be over a half a million."

Recent surveys indicate that Barack Obama holds a small lead in Virginia. Weidemann said the close race is attracting a stream of first-time voters, many of them foreign-born.

"There are a lot of people that are saying they are registering for the first time - that they have never felt it made a difference," said Weidemann. "Well, in Virginia it does make a difference this year because it is an extremely close election here. So people feel empowered and that their vote will make a difference."

A woman named Dashona at the Virginia subway station said she wants to register before time runs out.

"Well, I'm old enough now, and it could change history, if Obama wins, which I hope he do [does]," she said.

Retiree Benjamin Montgomery said he is updating his lapsed voter registration in Virginia ahead of the deadline.

"Because I want to make sure, this is history being made right now," said Benjamin Montgomery. "Barack Obama - I'm going to vote for him. I'm going to make sure there are no mistakes and I get to the polls."

Political analysts point out that voter registration is important, but that all those new voters still have to show up at the polls on November 4.