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New York Sees New Voters Rush to Register Before Deadline

Thursday, October 09, 2008

This is the last week that New York residents will be able to register to vote. Advocacy groups say New Yorkers are just as excited as the rest of the country about participating in this year's presidential election. WNYC's Elaine Rivera reports.

REPORTER: For nearly 90 years, the League of Women Voters has been informing the public about candidates, the voting process and the issues. The non-partisan group has seen voter participation dip and rise, but according to Robin Bahr, of the League of Women Voters of New York City, nothing has compared to the current presidential race.

BAHR: The calls-in have been tremendous, greater than any league in history. We've also been absolutely swamped with requests for speakers on voter issues so we've just never seen anything like this. It just suggest this tremendous voter turnout.

REPORTER: Bob Brehm, spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections, says they don't have exact numbers yet, since voter registration forms are still coming in. But he says in September alone there were 150,000 new registrants in New York State.

BREHM: We are hearing anecdotal evidence from the county boards about the tremendous amount of applications. They are receiving by mail and personal visits to their office, with people either needing to register or bringing in forms from a registration activity they participated in, as well as emails from people asking for forms to register.

REPORTER: Brehm adds that the number of daily hits to the Board of Elections web site has gone from an average of 7,000 to 50,000 in the last few weeks.

Cynthia Figueroa was volunteering in the South Bronx at the Board of Elections this week. She agrees with the assessment and says many young people are expressing interest in voting for the first time. The reason, Figueroa believes: Barack Obama.

FIGUEROA: I think people are more passionate this time because they see someone they can identify with more and because I think Obama did more community outreach. They feel closer to this type of candidate.

REPORTER: Crystal Rodriguez was at the South Bronx site to register because she had just moved from Florida. She says it was much easier to register there than in New York. In Florida, you can register online as long as you have a credit card. But she says it was worth taking the time off work to come to the Board of Elections office and become a New York voter. Asked how important the election is, Rodriguez was emphatic in her reply.

RODRIGUEZ: Extremely, extremely - it's important because of the economy.

REPORTER: And young people aren't only registering--they're volunteering. The Board of Elections had local registration drives at city schools on Tuesday. Twenty-four year old Miguel Pena was volunteering at P.S. 79 in the South Bronx. Pena says his immigrant parents, who are not citizens, insisted he vote. He says he's not alone.

PENA: What I've noticed, especially in the Spanish community, because I guess our parents are not eligible to vote, but we are since we're born here, they see us as their voices. So therefore, whatever they would want to see, they go ahead, and I notice they come in here and ask if they can register their kids. That's really exciting because at least you know the youth are representing the parents who cannot vote.

REPORTER: But Pena and other volunteers understand, no matter how enthusiastic people are to register and support their candidate, they still must show up to their polling sites on November 4. For WNYC, I'm Elaine Rivera.

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