Once again, if you doubt that Louisiana will be competitive this fall, then do yourself a favor and start reading the news and analyzing the numbers. In today’s New York Times, we learn about the inherent problems of the massive voter registration drive currently occurring in Louisiana–a drive that is being propelled by the intensity around both Senator Barack Obama and Senator Mary Landrieu’s upcoming elections.
The effort is called Voting is Power, and, like Senator Obama’s Vote for Change initiative, it hopes to register hundreds of thousands of new voters. As of last week, Louisiana Democratic officials estimated that nearly 74,000 new voters have been registered as a result of Voting is Power, though, due to clerical errors and incomplete forms, that number could be reduced by as much as one-third. All told, however, this is still an incredible sign.
The massive voter registration drive has created concerns about ensuring every new voter is, indeed, eligible, which mainly means ensuring that forms have been properly filled out and voters are sufficiently educated to properly fill out forms.
It remains unclear whether election officials will be prepared to handle more registrations and the potential for overwhelming turnout on Election Day, Mr. Slater said. “Party politics is driving up registration at unusually high rates,” he said.
He added that it was too soon to tell how much of the gap between black and white registration had closed before the primaries, which produced record turnouts in many states.
Democratic officials said the Louisiana drive, which was called Voting is Power, had produced 74,000 applications by the time it concluded last week. Registrars in the four main parishes where the drive operated report numbers closer to 50,000, but there is no breakdown of how many were submitted to other parishes.
To be sure, local Republicans have already mocked the effort as “phony,” though the numbers in Louisiana seem to conform with national trends:
Michael Slater, the deputy director of Project Vote, said high numbers of incomplete applications were not unusual in such drives. He said as a rule of thumb, 35 percent of voter drive applications were new voters, 35 percent were duplicates or change of address, and 30 percent were incomplete.
We also learn, not surprisingly, that the majority of complaints are occurring in parishes with Republican registrars, some of whom have denied thousands of applicants from joining the rolls due to clerical errors (though, to be fair, there is evidence of obvious pranks and duplicate applications).
In Louisiana, the biggest complaints about the drive have come from Republican registrars in Caddo Parish, which includes Shreveport; East Baton Rouge Parish, which includes Baton Rouge; and Jefferson Parish, just outside New Orleans.
The registrar in Jefferson, Dennis A. DiMarco, said that about 35 percent of the 4,000 cards his office had sorted were invalid because they had no address, the applicant was already registered or was a felon, or the signature did not match one on file at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Another group of cards, he said, was missing information that the office hoped could be obtained by mail.
In Caddo, the registrar, Ernie Roberson, said his office had sorted 6,000 cards, of which only about 2,200 had enough information to be entered into the computer. Many of those, he said, had been kicked back because of nonexistent addresses or duplicate registration.
Although the Jefferson Parish registrar appears to be invalidating registrations due to incomplete forms, the registrar of Orleans Parish has a different experience:
In Orleans Parish the registrar, Sandra Wilson, said she had received more than 19,000 Voting Is Power applications and had problems with only about 400 of them. There are 4,000 to 5,000 that have not yet been sorted.
If the card is missing information but has a phone number, she said, “We immediately call that person and get what we need.”