Archive for Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Heavy registration hints at voter boom

As state deadlines loom, more seek poll eligibility

October 5, 2004


In a glimpse of what the nation might see a month from now, people lined up at election offices and caused parking lot traffic jams as voter registration deadlines fell Monday in more than a dozen states.

Many officials reported record numbers of new voters, some said they were overwhelmed, and allegations already were flying about fraud and the disqualification of some voters' applications.

"They're coming in, in buckets," said Pamela Swafford, deputy director of Ohio's Hamilton County board of elections. By Monday morning, the county that includes Cincinnati had 64,045 new voter registrations on hand, more than twice the 29,178 it received four years ago.

Across Georgia's counties, Colorado's booming suburbs and in Midwestern cities, local officials were deluged.

Traffic jammed the parking lot at New Jersey's Burlington County government building. In Ocean County, phones rang continuously. The day for the office operator: "Good morning, Board of Elections, please hold; Good morning, Board of Elections, please hold; Good morning, Board of Elections, this is Barbara, how can I help you?"

Residents filling out forms stood after all the chairs were filled, and then waited in line to drop off the forms.

"I think it's important to help decide who runs this country," said Janis Britting of Toms River, N.J., who recently moved from another part of the state. She registered as a Democrat, but said she still was undecided between President Bush and Democrat John Kerry.

A complete accounting of the registration figures across each state, let alone the country, won't be finished for several weeks, as officials continue to accept postmarked registration forms. Other states' deadlines, including Kansas, fall later this week and month.

"If you walk into our mail room, we have stacks and stacks of new forms coming in," said Kara Sinkule, spokeswoman for Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, who oversees elections. "It's a great problem to have."

Her state is on pace to see a 50 percent increase in new voters for this presidential election compared with 2000. In the past year, 371,376 new voters registered, with 87,110 new voters in September alone. And the surge grew even bigger in the first few days of October.

Democrats and Republicans have poured resources into registering voters, spurred by the near deadlock of the 2000 presidential race and polls that predict another tight election this year.

Not everything has gone smoothly.

In Ohio, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell first ordered local election officials to reject registration cards that weren't on heavy-stock paper, then backed off after a burst of criticism. In Florida, critics are questioning a state order that would-be voters who failed to check a box testifying to their citizenship should be rejected.

There also are investigations into allegations of fraudulent applications in Michigan, Florida and Ohio, a lawsuit arguing that voter-drive groups were illegally denied the right to register voters in Wyoming, and claims that completed GOP voter registration forms were stolen from a nonpartisan vote-gathering group's headquarters.

"It just seems odd that there would be so many obstacles to something as basic as facilitating someone's right to vote," said Jorge Mursuli, national director of Mi Familia Vota, a voter-registration effort aimed at Hispanics. He's been trying to make sure voters who didn't fill out forms completely are notified so they can fix it.

Other questions arise over whether new voters will actually turn up on Election Day; many of the nonpartisan and partisan groups credited with driving up the numbers say they will keep working to contact voters and nudge them to the ballot box next month.

Oct. 18 is the deadline for Douglas County residents to register to vote in the Nov. 2 election.Forms may be picked up at the Douglas County Clerk's Office at the County Courthouse, 11th and Massachusetts streets. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. The office also will remain open until 9 p.m. Oct. 14, 15 and 18 for registration.Advance voting begins Oct. 13 and continues weekdays through noon Nov. 1 at the courthouse.To vote by mail, registered voters must file a request with the clerk's office by Oct. 29. But elections officials advise people to plan ahead: All completed ballots must be back in the clerk's office by 7 p.m. Nov. 2 to be counted.For more information, call the clerk's office at 832-5147, or click on and follow the links for the clerk's office.

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