By Jason A. Smith and Joel Hall
Area residents have only a few days left before the statewide cut-off date to make sure their voices will be heard in the 2008 presidential election.
Voter registration is ongoing at several locations in Henry and Clayton counties. The deadline to register is Oct. 6.
Frances Jackson, is the elections coordinator for Henry County, where a number of churches, individuals and civic groups are holding registration drives. She said residents in the area are likely to show up at the polls in far greater numbers than they did for the primary in July.
"We had 113,000 registered voters in the county who were eligible for the primary," she said. "Since that time, we have registered nearly 5,000 more Henry County residents. Some have moved to the area recently, and others are new registrations altogether."
Jackson said she expects voter turnout totals in Georgia to reach 85 for the election. The Henry elections office is preparing for this by sponsoring two registration drives Saturday. One will be held at Wolf Creek County Line Baptist Church, at 3352 Old Jackson Rd., in Locust Grove. The other will be at the Wal-Mart, at 1400 Hudson Bridge Rd., in Stockbridge.
Annie Bright, director of the Clayton County Board of Elections, said Clayton has seen a similar surge in registered voters. Bright said that between the July 15 primary and Sept. 1, the county registered 2,722 new voters. As of Oct. 1, the total number of registered voters in the county is 141,458.
"I don't have the statistics from 2004, but I can tell there has been a dramatic difference," said Bright. She said 5,532 people voted between Wednesday and Sept. 22, when the state opened early voting.
In both counties, representatives from the major political parties have been actively engaged in efforts to promote the importance of registering to vote. Michael Burns, a volunteer for the Democratic Party in Henry County, who works as an engineer, said he and others are donating their free time to highlight the need to vote.
"We're working with different charitable organizations, and through events like the Henry County Fair and the Chili Cook-off," said Burns.
He said the current presidential campaign has generated "excitement" for prospective voters on both sides of the political aisle. One particular group Burns said he hopes to reach through the drives is people who were not old enough to vote in the last election.
"When you make younger voters part of the process, by their very nature, they bring a certain amount of enthusiasm and joy that didn't exist [before]," he said.
Joe Corrado, a political science professor at Clayton State University, also works as campus coordinator of the American Democracy Project, a nation-wide effort to engage more students in the democratic process. Despite a less-than-spectacular turnout in the Clayton County primary election, Corrado believes students -- primarily motivated by the Barack Obama campaign -- will play a critical, local role in the election.
"People thought that, because of the problems in Iraq, that the youth vote was going to be large [in the 2004 election], but it really wasn't," said Corrado. "This year, the Obama campaign has energized youth. Because he's raised so much money, he has so many people on the ground."
Corrado blamed local issues, such as poverty and foreclosures for making many people "feel like its not worth voting." He believes, however, that many people in Clayton will come out to support "the first African-American candidate that has a good chance to win. I hope the same people who are disaffected in the local politics will go out and vote," he said.
Bill Herndon, chairman of the Republican Party of Henry County, said the group is working closely with the elections office at 66 Veterans Drive in McDonough, to spread the word about the need to vote. Herndon also noted efforts the county GOP is organizing through its headquarters, at 1733 Ga. Highway 42 N., in Stockbridge, as well as meetings of the party at various precincts.
"We have open meetings where we make contact with residents in the area," he said. "If they're not registered, we get them registered, or provide them with the information they need and encourage them to vote."
The GOP chairman said the need to vote must be emphasized constantly, and not just when an election is on the horizon. "Every election is important," said Herndon. "Voting is something we must not give up. That right is guaranteed to us, so that it may not ever wither and die."
Nancy Rahnert, treasurer of the Clayton County Republican Party, believes the party has experienced a rebirth during the 2008 election season. She said the party has been hosting more grassroots events, such as informal meet-and-greets with Republican candidates, at which people can register to vote.
"There has been a resurgence of Republicans getting out and being more involved," said Rahnert. "Our membership through the meetings has increased three times from what we used to have. More people have called requesting yard signs, volunteering to campaign for these candidates.
Rahnert said the party is making efforts to bring more youths in Clayton County to the Republican Party, such as working to revive the Clayton State University chapter of the Young Republicans.
To register to vote in Henry County, call (770) 288-6000. To register to vote in Clayton County, call (770) 477-3372.