Posted on March 25, 2020

Democrats Fret as Virus Halts In-Person Voter Registration

Anita Snow and Nicholas Riccardi, The Associated Press, March 22, 2020

The coronavirus is idling a potentially powerful force in the Democratic Party — liberal canvassers who go door to door or cruise through public gatherings, clipboard in hand, to register new voters.

Such efforts have been all but frozen because Americans now are being asked to stay inside and keep their distance to prevent the spread of the virus. In Arizona, Latino registrations drives have moved online. In Michigan, community organizers are trying to reach out remotely.

It’s a quiet change with potentially big consequences for Democrats up and down the ballot in the November general election. The party is depending on expanding the electorate to include more Latinos, young people and other groups that lean Democratic but have high rates of unregistered voters. The process of registering those voters is a yearlong, labor intensive project. An extended hiatus is a serious setback, particularly in a presidential election expected to hinge on which party turns out its key voting blocs.

“The most effective engagement is person to person, so having to cease those operations will have an effect,” said Clarissa Martinez, deputy vice president for UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy group and formerly the National Council of La Raza.

UnidosUS said it has moved its voter registration campaign online after temporarily sidelining in-person canvassing aimed at signing up 145,000 Latinos, mostly in Florida, but also Arizona, California, Nevada and Texas.

“Now, we are looking at texts, calls and digital tools to get people to register,” Martinez said.

Smaller groups are also hobbled. One Arizona, a coalition of nonprofit groups that hoped to register 250,000 new voters this year in the state said it pulled some 200 canvassers from the streets last week as public health measures shuttered schools and businesses.

In Michigan, Detroit Action, which organizes minorities in that city, is practicing social distancing like much of the country. Staffers are working from home and limiting in-person contact. “It’s a kind of oxymoronic for community organizing,” executive director Brendan Snyder said.

“Our constituency, black and brown folks, are young people, housing insecure, sometimes formerly incarcerated,” Snyder said. {snip}


African Americans and Latinos both have lower turnout and registration rates than whites and make up a far greater share of the Democratic electorate when compared with the Republican electorate. {snip}