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Pundits: New Voters Could Determine Victor in US Election - 2004-10-13

As of October 12, voter registration has ended in the run up to the presidential elections. According to election officials, newly registered voters are turning up in record numbers in many states. While both candidates have been trying to win the undecided vote, many believe it will be new voters who could make a difference in key battle ground states.

The last day of voter registration in Florida. And, Broward County's election office is overwhelmed with people registering to vote in the upcoming election. Matthew Shwartz has been registering new voters since May.

"People are starting to pay attention, a lot of people watched the debates. A lot of people are still on the fence by the way," he said.

Officials across the country are reporting record numbers of new voters. Some states are expecting to see more than 50 percent increases in new voters over the 2000 election. In politically active Montgomery County, Maryland outside Washington D.C., 13,000 new voters have registered in the last 12 days. And statewide registration is up 10 percent in the past four years.

But it is in the battleground states that new voters are expected to have the biggest impact on the election. After the party conventions this summer activists fanned out to battle ground states to recruit new voters. Among those targeted were college students in states like Ohio, and on the campus of the University of Michigan in Flint.

"This year the undecided vote is going to control whether or not who takes control of the government, or the executive board," said Michael Jain, a recent college graduate. "So I guess it is the responsibility of all the other undecided voters this year, all the unregistered voters, to choose where they want to take the country in the next four years."

A 2000 exit poll showed 48 percent of voters under 30 supported then Democratic Vice President Al Gore, and 46 percent voted for Mr. Bush. According to a Pew Research Center Poll, there could be similar figures in this year's election. While the economy and taxes are important to older voters, students like Adam Doyle say this election is more a referendum on the war in Iraq.

"Well, with all the stuff going on right now in the country and all the terrorist stuff and all that, it has been a little more important to me," he noted. "I'm 20 now and like I said, I just registered basically because of what is going on. When I was younger it didn't matter too much to me."

But whether or not newly registered voters will actually show up at the polls is another question. Activist groups say they are preparing to man the phones and nudge new voters toward the ballot box next month.