Getting out the vote

Woman-to-Woman Voter Turnout Project is seeking volunteers

The American Association of University Women (AAUW), Maryville Branch and the League of Women Voters (LWV), Blount County joined forces April 10 in an effort to increase voter registration, voter education, and drop-off voter recruitment.

The non-partisan meeting was held on Maryville College campus and offered a chance for attendees to get involved in the national campaign on a local level.

Area presidents from each organization, the administrator of elections for Blount County, MC students and faculty, along with several community members were in attendance.

The event was organized in hopes that voter registration in the area, particularly for women, would increase. Vandy Kemp, vice president and dean of students at Maryville College gave the presentation at the meeting.

“The best way to encourage someone [to vote] is to have personal contact with them,” Kemp said.

For this reason, the groups are organizing voter registration drives at area functions, such as high school football games, and will be setting up registration tables at local businesses such as Wal-Mart and the public library. Phone calls will also be made to area women encouraging them to participate in the voting process.

When asked why the campaign was begun, Kemp cited these statistics:

n In the United States, Tennessee ranked 36th for women’s voter registration (1998-2000), 42nd for women’s voter turnout (1998 and 2000), and 41st for women in elected office (2004) according to the October 2000 report by the Tennessee Economic Council on Women.

The kick-off is an opportunity for all residents to get involved in the election process, said the organizers.

“The most important thing right now is finding volunteers who would like to help.”

Bri Merrell-Cook, former Maryville College student and Blount County resident, signed up to help saying, “It’s not just a privilege to vote, it is your responsibility.” Several others also signed up to volunteer.

In addition to the voter registration drives, the groups hope to hold a non-partisan Issues Forum near election time so that residents can get better informed about all candidates up for election.

“Obviously we can’t get Hillary, Obama, or McCain to come speak here, but hopefully we will be able to get local representatives of each candidate to come speak about where their candidate stands on the issues,” said Kemp. Also planned are phone calling drives to contact “drop-off voters” --those registered voters who haven’t voted recently.

Libby Breeding, administrator of elections for Blount County, said they hope to have 80-85 percent of registered voters vote in this upcoming presidential election, compared with 69.9 percent in the 2000 Presidential Election.

“Registering voters is the most important thing, but also getting those people who have been registered and haven’t voted in a while is a big issue too,” said Breeding.

Breeding also stressed the importance of those residents who have moved to update their current address with the Elections Committee.

“They will still be able to vote in their new precinct, but it makes things much easier for everybody if they’ve taken care of that prior to the election.”

Anyone who would like to volunteer for the Voter Turnout Project should contact Vandy Kemp at 865-363-8110.

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