August 19, 2008
ACORN in the field

I spent a few months as a deputy vote registrar in 2004. It's pretty tedious work, and you don't really get to see a reward for it, since the folks you register won't cast their ballots for at least several weeks, assuming they make it to the polls at all. At least the current research suggests that voter registration drives do have a positive impact on turnout, so you have that going for you. It's not much, but it'll get you through the boring stretches.

Anyway, having done it before, I have a lot of respect for the folks who are out there doing it now, in the summer heat.

To find the most effective mass voter registration drive in Houston, check bus shelters, public hospital waiting rooms, job search centers and welfare offices.

There -- as opposed to PTO meetings, art festivals, naturalization ceremonies and other typical sites for civic activity -- is where ACORN has been methodically signing up poor and working-class citizens this year.

In fact, the local chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now has registered more voters in Harris County this year than the combined totals of all other local groups using deputized voter registrars, according to county officials.


About 40 percent of the 27,000 registration cards gathered by ACORN from January through July have been rejected or placed in limbo pending the gathering of more information, according to the county. About 6,600 were filled out by people already registered, and many others contained insufficient information.

But ACORN has worked with the voter registrar's staff under Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt to whittle the error rate, officials said. In Houston, the organization has a "quality control" team aimed at making sure registrations are legitimate and accurate.

Of the new registrations that are expected to raise the county voter roll to 2 million for the November election, only 13 percent come via such registration drives and cards mailed by individual voters. More than 60 percent come from the Texas Department of Public Safety, which offers registration forms at its driver's license outlets.

We've covered some of this ground before, so I'll just say again that I think 2 million registrations would represent a dropoff in relative terms from 2004. I think in the end we'll do better than that, but I don't think we'll reach 2.1 million.

I didn't see a quote in the article from an ACORN official, so I sent an email to Catherine Blue, who is their State Political Director for a reaction. Here's what she said:

We're tremendously proud of the work ACORN has done to get voters registered in Harris County and elsewhere. But the work doesn't stop here - we are committed to getting as many eligible applicants on the rolls as possible, and we are dedicated to activating these voters for the fall elections on the issues that ACORN cares about most - foreclosure prevention, health care access, and improvement in education.

I'm glad they're out there doing this work, and I hope they see much success in November.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 19, 2008 to Election 2008
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