Local Voter Registration Jumps Ahead Of Deadline

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 2, 2008

An unprecedented number of voter registration forms have been streaming into the Prince William County registrar's office, and election officials don't expect things to slow down as the Monday registration deadline approaches.

"We're getting about 500 applications a day, whereas in a non-election time frame we get about 500 a week," county Registrar Betty Weimer said. "People are very enthusiastic about this election and want to participate in anything to do with it. It's nice to see folks getting excited."

As of Tuesday, about 212,000 county residents had registered to vote, up from the 190,000 who were registered for the 2004 presidential election.

Typically, voter rolls in the county increase by about 10,000 during a presidential election year, said Weimer, who has worked in the county's voter registration and elections office for 24 years.

"Every presidential year gets bigger and bigger, but this has been the biggest by far," Prince William County Republican Committee Chairman Lyle Beefelt said, adding that more people have volunteered with his organization this year. "I'd really like to see a big turnout on Election Day, so I'm very excited about the increase in the number of new voters."

Prince William is not the only locality experiencing a jump in registration numbers. In Manassas, Registrar Linda Womack didn't have an exact count as of Monday but said the number was close to 20,000, up from 19,000 registered for the 2004 election.

Manassas Park's registrar, Patricia Brendel, said that as of Sept. 2, almost 6,000 residents had registered, up from the roughly 5,200 registered for the last presidential election.

"We've had a lot of older people registering for the first time," Brendel said, adding that her office had to order 1,000 more forms last month to accommodate the influx. "They say they finally have a reason to vote. I don't know what that means, but it's exciting to hear."

Although this is a region that has historically tilted Republican, Manassas/Manassas Park Cities Democratic Committee Chairman EJ Scott said she has had more people than usual wanting to volunteer with her organization. Last weekend about 150 volunteers knocked on doors. This weekend, Scott said the committee will have a booth at the Manassas Fall Jubilee, hoping to register a few more people before the deadline.

"We have seen an incredible volume of volunteers, and it's very encouraging for this area," she said. "A number of people have said to me, 'This is the first time I've wanted to get involved in a campaign.' "

Virginia residents have until the end of business Monday to turn in a voter registration form. Residents can also mail in the application if it is postmarked by Monday.

Forms are available at the voter registration offices in Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park, at public libraries, Department of Motor Vehicle offices, the Prince William Judicial Center and at other government facilities.

Forms are also online at http://www.sbe.virginia.gov, but they must be printed and mailed in because Virginia requires a signature on voter applications.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail is Oct. 28. Voters are eligible to vote by absentee ballot if they work and commute 11 or more hours a day between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m., temporarily reside outside their designated jurisdiction, are military service members, have a religious obligation on Election Day or meet one of the other requirements listed on the Prince William County Web site, http://www.pwcgov.org.

To handle the influx of registration forms, the Prince William election office has recruited three additional part-time staff members and volunteers. Weimer said she has also rallied almost 1,100 volunteers for the Nov. 4 election and would like to have a few hundred more to help with what will probably be an exceptionally busy day.

Manassas Park officials have also lined up extra volunteers for next month and might let people use a paper ballot if lines at the voting machines get too long, Brendel said.

"We want to remind folks to bring their patience because there will be lines on and off," Weimer said. "I think people of all age groups are looking forward to participating on Election Day."

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