283,000 Voters Added to Rolls In Va. This Year

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 17, 2008

RICHMOND, Sept. 16 -- More than a quarter-million Virginians have registered to vote since the beginning of the year, and jurisdictions that have traditionally voted Democratic are registering voters at the fastest pace, according to statistics released Tuesday by the State Board of Elections.

Virginia does not have party registration, but in almost every county and city with a history of supporting Democratic presidential candidates, the number of registered voters has increased by about 10 percent since Jan. 1.

Counties that have voted Republican recently are registering much lower percentages of voters, the statistics show.

In addition, 62 percent of new voters are younger than 35, and 42 percent are younger than 25, according to the state numbers.

The statistics suggest that Democrats could have a bigger base this year than in the 2004 presidential contest if they can get newly registered residents to vote on Election Day.

Since the start of the year, 283,695 people have registered to vote in Virginia, including 33,175 during the first half of September. And with the Oct. 6 registration deadline approaching, elections officials expect a crush of new applications.

"If you look at how the state has trended over the last three elections, I think it is a pretty safe guess many of these voters are Democratic-leaning," said Kevin Griffis, an spokesman for Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), the Democratic presidential candidate. "But registering new voters is only one piece of the puzzle. The next piece is getting these voters to the polls."

Republicans said that the state added more than 200,000 registered voters in 2004 but that President Bush won Virginia by 262,000 votes.

"We are committed to winning Virginia in November, and we have the necessary resources, battle-tested staff and volunteers to help register voters and bolster turnout on Election Day," said Gail Gitcho, a spokeswoman for the GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). "More and more Virginians are registering to vote because they believe in John McCain and Sarah Palin's message of reforming Washington with lower taxes, innovative energy solutions and stronger national security."

New voters are central to Obama's efforts to become the first Democratic presidential nominee since 1964 to win Virginia.

According to statistics from the State Board of Elections, the biggest percentage gains in new registrants are occurring in heavily black communities. In Richmond, 11,673 signed up to vote this year. They now account for 10.5 percent of the city's 111,000 registered voters. Similar gains have been made in heavily black Petersburg and Norfolk.

In Northern Virginia, new voters account for about 9 percent of the potential electorate in strongly Democratic Arlington County and Alexandria. Arlington has added about 13,000 voters since Jan. 1, and 8,100 people have registered in Alexandria.

Obama's campaign, the Virginia Democratic Party and outside groups have deployed hundreds of volunteers and paid staffers to heavily Democratic areas to register voters. But the groups are also targeting Washington's fast-growing outer suburbs and suburban communities around Richmond and in Hampton Roads.

In those places, Democrats said they can register enough voters to help diminish GOP voting patterns.

About 38,000 people registered to vote this year in Fairfax County, where one in seven Virginia residents reside. The newly registered account for about 6 percent of voters. New voters also account for 6 percent of all people registered in Prince William and Loudoun counties.

But in a sign that black residents appear especially energized by the election, almost as many people registered to vote this year in Norfolk as in Loudoun. Loudoun, which has grown rapidly since the 2004 election, is home to 40,000 more residents than Norfolk, which has been losing population.

Robert Holsworth, a political scientist at Virginia Commonwealth University, said new voters did not help the Democrats in 2004. "There is some indication that the new voter registration is tilting in some way to Obama, but I think the Democrats have to be cautious about being overconfident, given these numbers are not that much larger than 2004," he said.

The smallest registration gains have occurred in counties that tend to vote Republican. In Hanover County, in suburban Richmond, where 71 percent of voters supported Bush in 2004, the newly registered account for 4 percent of the potential electorate. The rolls have grown by about 3 percent since the beginning of the year. The numbers are similar in the Shenandoah Valley, where Bush was particularly strong.

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