Waves Of Connecticut Residents Registering To Vote
JOSH KOVNER And ARIELLE LEVIN BECKER
October 17, 2008
Led by a surge in college-age voters, state residents are registering in unprecedented numbers, portending a near-record turnout for the presidential election Nov. 4.
On college campuses, at black churches, in city neighborhoods and at town halls, people are signing up as never before, swelling the rolls of the dominant Democratic Party. As of Thursday, Connecticut had 2,021,749 voters. That includes more than 217,000 new voters since Jan. 1. And of the new voters, about 92,000 are between 18 and 29 years old.
Only 28,652 new voters registered Republican, compared to 92,752 Democrats and 94,342 unaffiliated.
The voter total is the highest in history, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said Thursday afternoon. The Democratic presidential primary between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton drew a record 53 percent turnout in February, and the numbers have never flagged.
In the first two weeks of October alone, nearly 50,000 people registered.
"We've never had over 2 million voters before," Bysiewicz said. "And we've never seen so many young people actively engaged in the registration process."
She expects another 50,000 new voters before the Oct. 28 registration deadline, and she predicted a voter turnout approaching 90 percent on Election Day.
That would be the highest showing since 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon drew 93 percent of Connecticut's voters.
Registrars' offices are rocking.
"This is the busiest I've seen in a long time," said Bristol Republican Registrar Ellie Klapatch, who has worked nearly 40 years. "A lot of young people are coming in, 18 and up. We've got college students registered and requesting absentee ballots."
Janice Gionfriddo, Middletown's Republican registrar, said, "We haven't taken a break. ... This is like nothing we've experienced before. It's nonstop. This is going to go down in the history books."
In West Hartford, Democratic Registrar Marcia Woolsey said she hasn't seen activity like this since Ronald Reagan faced Walter Mondale in 1984, adding, "It's very, very heavy and people are still coming in."
In Simsbury, more than 350 people registered between Sept. 12 and Monday, an unusually high total for a month.
"We've had a lot of young people come in, which we haven't seen before," Republican Registrar Marge Diachenko said.
On Saturday, registrars' offices in every Connecticut community will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to register voters.
Not only are college students signing up to vote in huge numbers, but some student leaders have made a science of drawing in new voters.
At Wesleyan University, for example, the student group WesVotes has placed a "hall captain" in each dorm to talk to students about voting. Absentee ballots, along with envelopes and stamps, are available, and a link on a college website says "click here to register to vote."
"It's really big," said Liza Conrad, a sophomore from Virginia. She estimated that 300 people have registered to vote through WesVotes.
At the University of Connecticut, a nonpartisan coalition of student groups has registered more than 2,000 students to vote so far, said Lauren Ashley Ellis, president of the UConn College Democrats.
Student volunteers have been going out from 7 to 10 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night to knock on dorm doors, she said. They also set up tables outside dining halls, visit classrooms and talk to their friends about voting, she said.
"We try to walk through the daily life of a student and think of all the different places they go and try to be there," said Ellis, a senior from Rhode Island.
Bysiewicz said high school students are signing up their 18-year-old friends, and added that a Latino voter initiative is nearing its goal of signing up 10,000 new voters.
"People of all ages understand the country's at a critical point and they want their voices heard," she said.
Courant Staff Writers Don Stacom, Peter Marteka and Regine Labossiere contributed to this story.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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