Originally created 10/03/04

Voter signups increase by 50 percent



ATLANTA - Georgians appear to have this fall's elections on their minds.

New voter registrations soared during the first eight months of the year, growing by almost 300,000 - roughly a 50 percent increase over the same period four years ago.

The pace of registration varied widely from county to county.

Some places - including Bryan, Clarke, Jefferson and Ware counties - saw less than a 10 percent increase over 2000.

However, others - including Barrow, Chatham, Effingham and Liberty counties - had roughly double the number of new voters from four years ago.

Though polls show President Bush with a commanding lead in Georgia, the race for the White House still proved to be a powerful attraction for some of the newly registered.

After living in Georgia for six years, Fulton County resident Phillip Jeffries said he registered for the first time so he could cast a ballot for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

"I didn't vote last time, and you see where it got us," said the 33-year-old interior designer, who opposes the war in Iraq.

In Athens, University of Georgia junior Catie McCoy said she plans to make the one-hour drive home to Lilburn on Nov. 2 and cast her first vote for Mr. Bush.

"The way I look at it is, who do we want in charge of our country?" the 20-year-old English education major said. "I just believe that George W. Bush is doing his best job, and he would definitely do a better job than Kerry."

For those who want to take part in the Nov. 2 elections, Monday is the deadline for voter registration forms to be postmarked and sent to the secretary of state's office.

The uptick in voter registrations has meant a busy summer for county election officials, who also must update their lists of eligible voters.

"We've been on a steady incline," said Brenda Fulcher, the senior deputy registrar for Jackson County in northeast Georgia.

New-voter registration in Jackson County grew this year by 1,584 voters from Jan. 1 to Aug. 30. That's a 147 percent increase over the same period in 2000, when 641 new voters signed up.

"We've just got boxes of registration cards piled up," Ms. Fulcher said.

Roughly 4 million people were registered as active voters in Georgia as of Sept. 1.

Though the state Democratic and Republican parties have invested major resources into beefing up the voter rolls, it is unknown which side will benefit the most because Georgia voters aren't required to register as a member of a party.

Further clouding the importance of the new voter numbers are historical data showing that an increase in voter registrations doesn't necessarily translate to more votes being cast, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock.

"These new voters don't have a habit of voting. They don't know where their precinct is, so they are less likely to vote than a voter who has been doing it for many years," Dr. Bullock said.

Still, both parties plan to begin major get-out-the-vote efforts in the next four weeks to bring as many eligible voters as possible to the polls.

Richmond County Democratic Party Chairman Lowell Greenbaum said tactics will include phone banking, neighborhood canvassing and direct mailings.

"This is a strategy that started two years ago," he said.

Marty Klein, a spokesman for the Georgia Republican Party, said GOP organizers hope to duplicate the grass-roots success they had in 2002, when Republicans staged a massive get-out-the-vote drive during the three days before the election.

In that election, Republicans won races for governor and U.S. Senate and picked off the Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate.

"That effort has only grown," Mr. Klein said. "We've expanded on it ... and we're ready for the last four weeks."

If substantial numbers of new voters cast ballots, races that currently appear lopsided could end up being closer than many would expect, said Mike Digby, a political science professor at Georgia College & State University.

"There's always that possibility that there will be a carry-through from the registration effort," he said.

Besides the presidential election, one of Georgia's two U.S. Senate seats is up for grabs Nov. 2, as are all 13 of the state's U.S. House seats and all 236 state Legislature posts.

NEW VOTER REGISTRATIONS

Close to 300,000 new Georgia voters registered with the secretary of state's office between Jan. 1 and Aug. 30 - a 50 percent increase over the same period in 2000. Here's a look at local counties.

Source: Georgia secretary of state

Reach reporter Brian Basinger at (404) 681-1701 or brian.basinger@morris.com.

County New voters '00 New voters '04 Difference
Burke 485 539 +11 percent
Columbia 2,452 3,166 +29 percent
Glascock 87 109 +25 percent
Jefferson 418 456 +9 percent
Jenkins 184 340 +85 percent
McDuffie 359 646 +80 percent
Richmond 3,962 5,699 +44 percent
Screven 335 324 -3 percent
Taliaferro 48 91 +90 percent
Warren 143 227 +59 percent