By Bill Lambrecht
WASHINGTON - In the Rio Grande Valley, the Cameron County elections division worked past 9 p.m. Tuesday handling some 500 late-arriving applications and taking calls from people worried about missing the state’s voter registration deadline for the Nov. 8 election.
Texas, one of 13 states where the deadline passed Tuesday, expected to surpass 15 million registered voters when a flood of applications is counted in coming days, county election officials said.
“I think the personalities on the top of the ticket are really driving interest in this election,” said Remi Garcia, Cameron County elections administrator.Texas, one of 13 states where the deadline passed Tuesday, expected to surpass 15 million registered voters when a flood of applications is counted in coming days, county election officials said.
Bexar County’s tally Wednesday - 1,036,529 - already is 12.8 percent higher than in November 2012, exceeding Harris County’s 10.5 percent increase thus far and big boosts in other Texas cities.
Dallas County’s registration, with thousands uncounted, already represented a 9.5 percent increase over 2012. El Paso County is reporting an increase of 10.4 percent thus far with more applications to be counted.
In Bexar County, it could take another five days and working through the weekend to process applications arriving by mail and courier.
The late surge in voters in an electorate already energized by a high-stakes and bitter election for president began with the first televised debate, elections officials say. With the deadline bearing down, interest intensified over the weekend with another candidate debate along with heavy coverage of the audio tape from years ago with Donald Trump’s x-rated remarks about women.
Beyond Texas, other states with deadlines this week saw a surge in interest. In Florida, a federal judge agreed Wednesday to extend voting registration until Oct. 18 due to Hurricane Matthew, rebuking the state’s Republican governor for seeking to heed Tuesday’s statutory deadline.
In Michigan, metro Detroit elections officials kept offices open late on Tuesday to accommodate people and groups, among them Hispanic advocates delivering applications.
In Ohio, a bellwether in presidential elections, members of the Ohio Hispanic Coalition on Wednesday began training for a new super PAC aimed at delivering votes on Nov. 8 after a robust registration drive.
Organizers of a large Hispanic gathering in Cleveland last weekend wound up their registration efforts by fanning out in the crowd.
“You couldn’t walk 10 feet without people asking you if you are registered,” said Lynn Tramonte, Ohio-based vice president of America’s Voice, an umbrella organization whose members are pressing for immigration reform.
“I think there’s an increased awareness in the entire electorate, not just among Latinos, about the importance of this election in the actual direction of this country,” she said. “Are we going to continue the immigration improvements under President Obama? Or are we going to be a nation that moves backwards in terms of a stratified society.”
Officials in Bexar and Harris counties cited efforts by the League of Women Voters.
Wylecia Wiggs Harris, CEO of the League of Women Voters of the United States, noted that on Sept. 27 - dubbed National Voter Registration Day — 350 state and local leagues affiliates in Texas and around the country registered hundreds of thousands of voters. She said the exact number remained unknown.
“What we know is that in a presidential election year, interest is normally higher. We also know what when there are competitive and exciting races, we are more likely to see higher voter turnout,” she said in an interview.
Harris added that the league’s vote411.org website offers a variety of election information for voters personalized to their address.
In Harris County, where the registration roll reached 2.21 million Wednesday and still counting, registrar Mike Sullivan said that the presence of two non-incumbents seeking the White House spurred registrations. He noted that more than 10,000 new voters had been signed up in naturalization ceremonies this year, nearly 1,700 in September alone.
Sullivan credited much of the Houston-area increase to registration drives in partnership with corporations, along with efforts in nursing homes and apartment complexes. He also pointed to successful repair of “a sometimes hostile relationship” between his office and the League of Women Voters.
“I turned it around from a relationship that was adversarial to one that was partnership,” he said.
In Dallas County, elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole said her registration numbers — bolstered by more than 9,000 on Wednesday — “are going through the roof.” She noted the presence of trays of applications yet to be processed.
“The debates were so much closer to the registration period. And I think that what people are seeing in the media is peaking their interest,” she said.