D.C. Records Increase in Registered Voters

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 4, 2008

Voter rolls in the District have gotten fatter this year, with Democrats and Republicans sharing in gains credited to a surge in the District's population and a lively primary race for an incumbent's D.C. Council seat.

There are about 31,000 more people registered to vote in the District this year than at the same point before the 2004 elections, an increase of about 8 percent. More than 20,000 of the new voters are Democrats, an increase of less than 1 percent. Republican registrations increased by about 700, but that is a 2.5 percent boost, city statistics show.

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics has created a new voting precinct for the first time in six years to accommodate the growing community of condo dwellers in the Penn Quarter, Chinatown and Mount Vernon Square areas, the board said.

There are 2,469 voters registered in the new Precinct 143, according to statistics posted after Aug. 11, the deadline for primary registration.

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) championed the new precinct for the growing number of residents moving into the area's bumper crop of housing. The residents were originally in Precinct 130, on Capitol Hill.

"This is a great move to ensure residents have easy access to their polling locations," Wells said. "Our downtown neighborhoods are experiencing unprecedented growth over the last several years and show all signs of continuing this trend."

It's unknown whether more people are registering to vote because they are excited about a historic presidential contest or because more people are living here. As of the August deadline, 399,127 people were registered to vote. At this point in the 2004 election cycle, 368,477 voters were registered in the District.

"Registration has steadily increased in the District this year, especially with Republican votes," said Dan Murphy, acting public information officer for the elections board.

There are 29,622 Republicans registered to vote, up from about 28,900 four years ago.

The race for Carol Schwartz's D.C. Council seat might have spurred the increase in GOP registration, some officials said. Schwartz (R-At Large) has had the seat for 16 years and is being challenged in the primary by Patrick Mara.

Many of the city's Republicans are in the same neighborhood. With 1,143 registered Republicans, a sliver of Georgetown near Georgetown University and close to the U.S. Naval Observatory, Precinct 6, remains a GOP stronghold. It is also where a number of the city's 7 percent of voters who were registered Republicans lived four years ago, statistics show.

Democratic voters have not changed much, maintaining a 74 percent majority in the city, according to statistics. About 2 percent of voters are registered with the D.C. Statehood Green Party, 16 percent are registered as nonpartisan and 1 percent belong to other small parties.

The League of Women Voters said its efforts are getting more young people registered. A change in D.C. voter regulations this year allows 17-year-olds to register while they are in school. They can't vote until they are 18, but when teens register while they're in school, it's more likely they will become voters, said Elinor Hart, who handles voter services for the league.

The league will be running a campaign in D.C. schools from Sept. 22 to Oct. 6 to register seniors and night school students, Hart said.

She said school officials told her there is palpable excitement among D.C. youths about Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-Ill.), spurring interest in presidential politics that few school officials have seen before.

"Of course, we have to be careful, you know, not to influence" the students, Hart said. "But that's what we're hearing."

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