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Voter registration is soaring amid nationwide protests. But it's unclear what that will mean in November

Voting chaos in battleground states
Voting chaos in battleground states 01:56

Progressive groups and nonprofits focused on voting are saying they are seeing more registration requests amid the nationwide protests and calls for racial justice. "We've seen thousands of people flooding our website to get more information on how to vote, and I think that is a direct response to this moment that we're in and people looking for outlets to channel their rage right now," said Jennifer Edwards, Color of Change senior director of digital engagement and democracy.

The uptick in voter registrations comes as activists examine how to turn the growing calls for police reforms and spotlight on systemic racism into long term  transformations. Groups including Vote.org, the Voter Participation Center, Color of Change, She the People, and Rock the Vote have all reported a shift in recent weeks following the death of George Floyd

Through Color of Change's Voting While Black campaign website, people can either register to vote or check and update the status of their voter registration. While the group's voter registration effort was conceived in 2016, about a third of all people who have visited its online platform have done so in the past month. The highest levels of engagement they're witnessing have come from battleground states such as Florida, Georgia and Texas, as well as California. 

Color of Change has always focused on criminal justice reform through action at the local level. But Edwards believes messaging is having a greater impact now because local leadership is already under greater scrutiny due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The way we're starting to connect the dots for people with the power of these local elected officials, I think is going to be very powerful for November because people are not only paying attention to the presidential election, they're like 'oh snap, my governor is actually up for reelection,' or your senator or your local city council person who is finally in the spotlight because of what's happening in this current moment," said Edwards.

The Voter Participation Center had seen a drop in registration rates at the end of March and beginning of April. But, more recently, the group has seen a 250% increase in online voter registration applications. And 88% of that activity is coming from unmarried women, people of color and young people. The nonprofit specifically targets this "Rising American Electorate."

"People are responding," said Voter Participation Center founder Page Gardner. "They're saying 'you're not going to stop us. We're on the streets today and we're going to vote tomorrow.'"

"This is the perfect storm for watershed change," said Desiree Barnes from Vote.org. She noted that this past week, voters were willing to wait in lines for hours during a pandemic to cast ballots amid a colossal voting meltdown in Georgia.  

Vote.org has seen increases in voter registrations and registration verifications for at least five consecutive days. Last week alone, more than 211,000 people registered to vote through the platform, including one day where 60,000 people signed up.  Another 264,600 opted into their list for text reminders for the November election. 

Rock the Vote is acknowledging both the activism outside and on social media as it sees increases in numbers. Since June 1, the organization added 25,000 new followers on Instagram, and its June election image was shared more than 60,000 times. At the same time, more than 101,000 new voters have registered, the most in a single week during the 2020 election cycle so far.

"Those are not random occurrences," said Rock the Vote's Jesse Moore about the social media engagement. "These are people who are connecting the dots between what they're doing on the streets and what needs to change in their elected officials."

A number of national figures have focused on local races when promoting voting, including former President Obama, who acknowledged the skepticism around voting to bring about change, and activist Killer Mike, who recently said it's time to "beat up prosecutors you don't like at the voting booth."

But it's unclear how increased registrations translates to results in the presidential race. While voting groups report seeing increased engagement, officials tell CBS News, it's not clear what it means for the presidential race.

She The People founder Aimee Allison said her organization has seen an uptick in registrations reported among the more than 150 partners they work with, including many in battleground states. But where attention and efforts are already taking place down-ballot, she is not convinced it goes all the way to the White House.

"I could see local officials being held more to account because that's the nature of local politics," said Allison, but she is afraid Joe Biden is not doing enough to set the tone at the top.

"I could imagine a place like Michigan where people skip the top of the ticket, and they just vote down-ballot," Allison said.. "These are the kinds of things we are at risk for unless we have some alignment and embracing of what people want right now."

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