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Voter Registration May Be Hampered

In North Carolina, where Democrats are hoping to make a splash up and down the ballot this cycle, voter registration — particularly among self-described independents — has increased dramatically since the last presidential election, a trend likely to continue in the coming weeks. According to North Carolina State Board of Elections data, voter registration has jumped from 5.07 million in May 2004 to more than 6 million today, a 20 percent increase.

Presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is making the state a high-profile target this cycle, as are House and Senate Democrats, who are spending millions of dollars targeting incumbents Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) and Rep. Robin Hayes (R).

The list of possibly affected states also includes the perennial political battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio.

Wendy Weiser, a voting rights expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, agrees with Rodriguez’s and Feinstein’s calls to reschedule the agency’s network outage, writing on her blog last week that it “will seriously impair the ability of states to process new voter registrations before the November 4 election.” Weiser also cited research by her organization showing that the shutdown may disproportionately affect “older, African- American, and low-income” registrants.

“In every election, there is a huge spike in voter registrations in the period right before the voter registration deadline,” Weiser wrote. “Florida, for example, typically receives between 13 and 20 percent of its new voter registrations in the week before the deadline.”

Weiser told Roll Call on Tuesday she doubts that higher-ups at the agency are acting politically by shrugging off requests to delay the shutdown until after the election, saying that the Social Security Administration’s “intentions are OK” but that the computer work “could lead to problems,” particularly in states with onerous polling-place requirements.

“There will be a lot of collateral problems with not getting processed,” Weiser said.

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