By LETICIA LINN
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Parties and other organizations are launching a last push to sign up voters this weekend before Tuesday's deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 7 general election.
The election features tight races for U.S. Senate and governor and both parties are working hard to identify and turn out their voters.
More than 3.1 million voters were registered to vote in the primary election last month, 1.7 of them with the Democratic Party and around 900,000 with the Republican Party, according to Maryland State Board of Elections Web site.
In the 2002 general election, more than 2.7 million people registered to vote, and the turnout was 1.7 million voters, almost 62 percent of those registered. Maryland has a population of 5.4 million, with 74 percent of them older than 18, the minimum age eligible to vote, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Web site.
Registrations have increased during the past years, said Ross Goldstein, deputy state administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, and they are expected to continue rising for the general election.
"Our role is to make registration as accessible as possible for people," said Goldstein. Other organizations, parties and campaigns organize rallies to persuade people to register to vote, he added.
Democrats and Republicans have been working hard toward that goal recently, as Maryland is facing several contested races.
"We have been stressing the Oct. 17 deadline and we will continue to stress that deadline in all of our meetings, all of our festivals," said Audra Miller, director of communications of the Maryland Republican Party.
"Everywhere where the party has a presence we have voter registration forms available and we inform people about the importance of their vote, this year's election and the deadline," she said. "We do expect registration numbers to be up. This is a very competitive election, and we want everyone voting and every voter informed."
Voters will select Maryland's next governor—either Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich or Democrat Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley—and its next U.S. senator to replace Paul Sarbanes, who is retiring this year. Democrat Rep. Ben Cardin, Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, and tri-party candidate Kevin Zeese are vying for the Senate seat. Marylanders will choose a new comptroller, attorney general and House representative in the 3rd District.
"Everything that we do, everything that we encourage our candidates to do, involves delivering that message" that every vote is needed, said David Paulson, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party.
Paulson said the party has been sending reminders to Democratic supporters about the deadline—and they will do it again this weekend.
Parties are not the only ones working to register voters. Casa de Maryland will register voters at Metro stations and churches, said Francisco Cartagena, community organizer. They already have signed up 600 new voters since before the primary election, he said.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, with headquarters in Baltimore, has launched a campaign called "Arrive with 5" to increase voter registration and participation. The organization has been asking participants to identify five friends or family members to register and vote.
"Our goal is to increase the overall African-American voter turnout by 5 percent more than the 2002 African American turnout," said the NAACP's Web site.
In order to vote, the person must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and a resident of Maryland. Citizens are ineligible if they've been convicted more than once of a violent or infamous crime and have not been pardoned.
Voter registration can be completed in person in several places: the local board of elections; the State Board of Elections; the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; the Department of Social Services; the Motor Vehicle Administration; Offices on Aging; the MTA Paratransit Certification Office; all public institutions of higher education; recruitment offices of the U.S armed forces; marriage license offices, and offices for students with disabilities at all Maryland colleges and universities.
Maryland residents may also print an application from the State Board of Elections Web site and send it by mail postmarked by Tuesday.
Voters have the option to register with one of the six political parties recognized in Maryland: Democratic, Republican, Green, Constitution, Libertarian and Populist. A person can also register as "unaffiliated" but will not be able to vote in primary elections.
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