Rush to Register Swells Va. Rolls by 10%

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 16, 2008

RICHMOND, Oct. 15 -- Nearly a half-million people registered to vote this year in Virginia, a 10 percent increase and the highest single-year boost in at least the past decade, according to final figures released Wednesday by the State Board of Elections.

With Virginia a key battleground in the presidential race between Democratic nominee Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, elections officials reported unprecedented interest in signing up voters.

Virginia does not register by party, so there is no way to be sure whether the crush of new voters will benefit Obama or McCain. But jurisdictions that have traditionally favored Democratic candidates outpaced Republican strongholds in the battle to register new voters.

The numbers were released after elections officials finished processing the final crush of applications they received in the days and weeks leading up to the Oct. 6 registration deadline. The state's voter rolls are now above 5 million people, the highest ever.

"It's historic," said Rokey W. Suleman II, the general registrar in Fairfax County, which has more than 61,000 new voters. "I worked 37 straight hours Friday and Saturday, processing applications. We worked night and day."

Subtracting people who died or moved out of state, Virginia has 436,000 more registered voters than it did at the beginning of the year.

Maryland's registration deadline was Tuesday, and officials there are still counting new voters. So far, officials say there's been an almost 10 percent increase, to about 3.3 million registered voters.

District officials also are still counting new voters. "At this point, we are working hard to process thousands of registration applications that we got in the weeks before the October 6 deadline," said Dan Murphy, a spokesman for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. "We are expecting a significant increase in the number of people registered in the District." Murphy said that as of Aug. 11, there were 399,127 registered voters in the city.

Virginia's registration has jumped 10 percent since Jan. 1. In 2004, the last time there was a presidential race, the number of registered voters rose by about 272,000, or 6 percent.

The surge in registrants mirrors trends in other states, as Obama's campaign and outside groups engaged in a massive registration campaign nationwide.

Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio and Florida, which like Virginia are crucial battlegrounds in the presidential contest, all report that they added at least a half-million registrants this year.

In those states, the new registrants have skewed heavily toward the Democrats.

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