Grocery shoppers and churchgoers might come home this weekend with a little more than produce and prayer books. There could be voter registration cards tucked into their hymnals and grocery bags.
With the Tuesday registration deadline looming for November elections, community groups and political organizers have scheduled a blitz of voter registration drives this weekend at grocery stores and churches, hoping to add to the 488 voters who registered in Augusta last month.
The get-out-the-vote efforts are significant because despite their politically sterile presentation, in close local races the drives can work as subtle forms of campaigning and make the difference in an election, said Joseph Greene, a local political observer and professor of business administration at Augusta State University.
Although there are strict rules about advocacy at voter drives authorized by election officials, such drives can lean toward certain types of politics depending on the demographic likely to respond to them, he said.
For example, Richmond County Republican Party Chairman Dave Barbee admits that the drives are largely ineffective for his party locally, mostly because he said people in the communities his party would serve are already registered.
However, the 10 drives taking place this weekend in south Augusta appear to serve a lower- to middle-income demographic that Mr. Greene said typically produces the best results for grass-roots registration efforts.
"You want to concentrate on a segment of the population that would not already be registered to vote," he said. Locations "like Wal-Mart that cater to the lower- to middle-income level - those people are the ones who are not likely to be registered. You don't want to set up in front of Macy's."
But the voter drives don't necessarily take advantage of this potential to influence.
Some organizations go the extra mile to make sure their registration booths are free from politics.
For example, Restoration Ministries International Christian Fellowship began holding registration drives to prevent politics from blending into the sermon, said Clara Caldwell, the coordinator of the church's government relations.
She said the voter drives "are becoming a lot more prominent because candidates are starting to seek the church out to address the congregation," which she said is not permitted. Ms. Caldwell said the drives were a way of providing a balanced political outlet for the church.
Betty Frank, the chairwoman of voter registration for the Richmond County Democratic Party, said it doesn't matter to her how people vote once she signs them up.
The organization will register residents today at the Wal-Mart on Deans Bridge Road.
"If people happen to vote Democrat, fine," she said. "If they vote Republican, that's fine, too."
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- Restoration Ministries International Christian Fellowship, 2404 Tobacco Road, 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
- At four Augusta Bi-Lo stores, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Antioch Missionary Baptist Church 1454 Florence St., 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
- Restoration Ministries International Christian Fellowship, 2404 Tobacco Road, 7:45 to 11 a.m.
- Broadway Baptist Church, 2323 Barton Chapel Road, noon to 1:30 p.m.
- Wal-Mart, 3209 Deans Bridge Road, 1 to 3 p.m.
HOW TO REGISTER
The deadline to register for the Nov. 7 general election is Tuesday. You must register by then to be eligible to vote in any runoff, which would be held Dec. 5. The Augusta mayoral election is likely to require a runoff, as there are four candidates running for the position.
- If you are registering by mail for the first time in Georgia, you are required to provide a copy of or show at the polling place one of 17 types of valid identification, including a driver's license, birth certificate, U.S. passport, military identification or current utility bill.
- Voter registration forms are available online at www.sos.state.ga.us, your public library or the Richmond County Board of Elections, 530 Greene St., Room 104. Applications must be postmarked by Oct. 10.
- To register to vote in Georgia, you must be a citizen of the United States, a legal resident of Georgia and of the county in which you wish to vote, and at least 18 years old by election day. You cannot register if you are serving a felony sentence or determined by a court to be mentally incompetent. You do not have to register by political party.
- If you're not sure whether you're currently registered in the county where you live, check the poll locator database at www.sos.state.ga.us/cgi-bin/Locator.asp or via the Secretary of State's Voter Information hot line at (888) 265-1115.
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