Southern Maryland News

Hordes Make Voter Registration Deadline

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 16, 2008

Record numbers of potential new voters in Southern Maryland stood in long lines Tuesday, deadline day, to make sure their vote would count Nov. 4.

"The inside of the office is just packed, and the phones have been ringing off the hook," Tracy Dickerson, director of the Charles County Board of Elections, said Tuesday.

The scene was the same in Calvert and St. Mary's counties.

"Right now, I see a nonstop line," Gail L. Hatfield, elections administrator in Calvert, said Tuesday afternoon. "There is definitely a major influx in voter registration, but today especially. They want to get in here, in the last minute, in person and make sure it gets taken care of."

In Charles, more than 2,500 potential new voters have signed up since Oct. 1. The total number registered, 86,293, is nearly a 17 percent increase over the number of registered voters for the 2004 general presidential election. Of the new Charles registrants, 1,730 are Democrats, 306 are Republicans and the rest are registered in other parties or unaffiliated.

Calvert registered nearly 865 new potential voters in the past two weeks, bringing the total to 54,675 registrants. That was an 11 percent increase over the number for the 2004 election. In a county where the number of registered Republicans typically runs neck and neck with the number of Democrats, 452 residents registered as Democrats, and 201 registered as Republicans.

More than 1,030 registrants have been added to the voter rolls in St. Mary's since Oct. 1. The total there is 60,681 registrants, a 23 percent increase over the number in 2004. Historically, a few thousand more Democrats show up at the polls in St. Mary's than Republicans. The latest numbers follow that trend, with 491 residents registering as Democrats and 300 as Republicans.

Brenda Burch, director of the St. Mary's Board of Elections, said that on Monday morning, her office mailed out 600 notification cards, which are filled out by new registrants and those who need to update their information. That afternoon, the workers dropped an additional 311 in the mail.

"On a normal week, we might have run, say, 200 notification cards. To run 300 in one day is quite a feat," Burch said.

Election officials in the three counties said the number of mail-in registrations, which were required to be postmarked by Tuesday, are sure to boost registration numbers.

"I'm sure that tomorrow we'll have another box full of registrations to pick up at the post office," Hatfield said Tuesday.

Officials have been buying more electronic polling books, leasing additional voting machines and lining up election judges and poll workers.

Charles added 58 voting machines, 107 voting judges and quite a few polling books, "hoping it will alleviate lines," Dickerson said. Charles needs more substitute Republican poll workers, although it has enough Democratic substitutes, she said.

"We always have one or two cancel on Election Day, so we'd like to have a few in reserve," Dickerson said.

In Calvert, a six-page waiting list of the names of people who want to volunteer on Election Day is a county first, Hatfield said.

Voter turnout in the 2004 presidential election was high in the three counties at nearly 80 percent. The majority of Calvert and St. Mary's residents voted for the Bush-Cheney ticket, and Charles residents backed the Kerry-Edwards Democratic ticket.

Election officials predicted a turnout of at least 85 percent Nov. 4. Because interest in the election is strong, people should vote between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to avoid long lines.

"There is always a lot of interest during election time, but the amount of public interest in this election is definitely going to be a historical event," Hatfield said. "It is going to break some records."

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