Voter registration culminates tonight

Tyler McIntosh

Register at the campus library

Voters in the Kent State community who still need to register to vote or request an absentee ballot before tonight’s 9 p.m. deadline need to look no further than the reference desk at the University Library.

Led by Joseph Salem, head of the reference area and associate professor of government information services, the staff at the reference desk will be handing out and accepting voter registration forms until 9 p.m. tonight.

“We handle it well,” Salem said. “It’s completely non-partisan. We share information with students and help them figure out the best way for them to register and vote.

“We anticipate that it will be busy. We are going to be staffed well Monday night. People always tend to do things right before deadlines, but we are going to help anyone as long as they get here and are filling out their forms before nine o’clock.”

While the official totals won’t be known for some time, Salem said that he was pleased with the number of Kent State students who are already registered to vote compared to the 2004 elections.

“I think it’s a result of some of the new voting laws in Ohio,” Salem said. “It seems that quite a few students are coming to campus already registered. We are doing more with absentee ballots or helping them re-register. I think the state has done a pretty good job of getting the word out for people to register.”

From now and until the election is over in November, Salem and his staff will strive to answer any questions potential voters may have as well as help them realize their vote matters, especially those in the 18-24 age group.

“I think the perception is that the candidates don’t listen to people of that age,” Salem said. “It may be true if you feel ignored, but part of the reason is that people in that age group don’t vote. If you don’t vote, you are going to be ignored. If you want to wait until you are in your 30s to actually have your voice matter, then don’t vote and don’t register. If you want it to count now … get out, register and vote.”

While Salem’s job ends when a voter gets registered, the task of the Republicans and Democrats of Portage County is to sway voters to their side until the ballots are punched.

Keeping Portage blue

The Portage County Democratic Party is a busy organization these days. As they head into the home stretch of election season, the party still has a lot to do to help secure victories not only for presidential candidate Barack Obama, but also the 21 other Democrats on the ticket in Portage County.

In addition to running their Ravenna headquarters Monday through Friday and helping out the Obama campaign office in Kent, there are phone banks to be run, house parties to host, volunteers to coordinate and events that must be attended to get the Democrats names to the public.

Sandy Halem, the party’s office manager and second vice chair, also serves as the liaison between the Ravenna and Kent offices. She said she loves every moment of it, even if it means having her cell phone practically glued to her ear for the next month. Halem doesn’t mind because she remembers what it was like four years ago when there was virtually nothing to do.

“I talked to a woman this morning who said that in previous campaigns, people in Portage County didn’t even have button stickers or buttons,” Halem said. “The campaign office was only opened for six weeks and three hours a day.

“We have two campaign offices going almost seven days a week with hundreds of volunteers working all over Portage County from Aurora to Hiram Windham, to Randolph, Paris and Brimfield. That’s significantly different.”

Halem credits the turnaround of the PCDP to new chairman Craig Stephens, who she says helped implement a better strategy that makes volunteering opportunities available to every democrat in Portage County, not just those close to Ravenna.

“It’s important because now everybody feels they have a stake in the election,” Halem said. “.The people of Portage County are among those people all over the United States who are hurting in terms of income. This campaign solves a great many problems and creates a whole new base of people who feel involved in the political process.”

Halem said that she feels confident about the Democratic Party’s chances in Portage County this year. Her optimism is not blind; even with all the problems PCDP had in 2004, Democrats still won 11 of 16 elections, including the presidential vote in which the Kerry and Edwards’ ticket won 53 percent of the popular vote.

Turning Portage red

Right across the street from the Democratic Party Headquarters sits the Republicans of Portage County. Things are not as bright here. Sitting in a room filled with 300 new McCain-Palin yard signs, volunteer Jerry Downey recognizes that it’s tough for Republicans in a heavily Democratic county. At least it has been for the past six years he has volunteered.

“Our candidates are running against incumbents who have been in office for a long time,” Downey said. “It’s very difficult for Republicans to win in a blue county. We make the effort because we think we are right, and we think they are wrong.”

Despite the poor odds of many Republicans coming away winners in November, Downey will keep handing out literature, canvassing neighborhoods, and answering phones with hopes that his candidates will win like in 2004 when George Bush was re-elected president and Steven LaTourette, Mary Taylor and George Voinovich ran successful U.S. representative and Senate campaigns.

“I think we are making a difference,” Downey said. “We made a significant difference in 2004, and I hope to make a significant contribution in this election.”

Contact public affairs reporter Tyler McIntosh at [email protected].