Election officials in Virginia and Maryland report a dramatic spike in the numbers of new voters prepared to cast ballots in the presidential election, reflecting a general increase in registered voters nationwide.
The surge in registrations in the two states, compared with similar periods in 2000, suggest that an energized electorate is poised to vote Nov. 2, election officials said.
In Virginia, 43,000 new voters were registered in August, up 30 percent from the same period four years ago, according to the state elections board. The state had 4.3 million registered voters as of Sept. 1. September numbers will be available Monday, which also is the deadline to register.
Maryland officials are seeing even more dramatic increases from 2000. The state registered more than 46,000 new voters in August; in August 2000, it registered 25,580. Maryland officials said the state probably will exceed 2.9 million registered voters soon.
"It really has been overwhelming," said Jean Jensen, director of the Virginia electoral board. She said she has ordered 750,000 registration applications since May, because there has been such a demand from civic groups and others interested in getting out the vote.
"Our staff has been extremely busy trying to keep up with all these new applications," Jensen said.
The increases are occurring all across the commonwealth. For instance, in Harrisonburg, officials said they have processed twice as many applications for registration this year as in 2000. Meanwhile, 200 miles away in Arlington County, electoral board director Linda Lindberg said the county registered 4,000 new voters in July, up from about 2,500 during the same period four years ago. In each case, the rate of increase in voter registration was greater than that of the localities' population increase.
Similarly, Maryland officials said the increases appeared to touch each part of the state.
"In a presidential election year, we tend to always see more people register to vote than other years," said Mary Kramer Wagner, the director of the voter registration division of the Maryland Electoral Board.
Electoral officials in the District said registered voters have increased 8 percent since 2000.
The trends in Virginia and Maryland are mirrored across the country, according to the National Association of Secretaries of State in Washington. Meredith Imwalle, director of communications for the organization, said state officials nationwide are generally reporting higher levels of new voters than four years ago. For instance, in Florida this year, 151,000 new voters were registered between Jan. 1 and July 31. In 2000, the state signed up nearly 77,000 during the same period.
She said state officials in New Mexico expect 10 percent of all voters to be new voters, an increase from 2000.
Democrats and Republicans said the increases reflect their parties' efforts to energize their bases. In Virginia, Democratic Party officials organizing for their presidential nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), said the higher numbers reflected an awakening among previously disaffected voters. Republicans said the trends reflected enthusiasm for President Bush.
Experts in political trends said the increases reflect the grave issues facing the nation: the war in Iraq, the state of the economy and the threat of terrorism.
"There's a general sense in the public that this is an election about big ideas: war and peace, the Iraqi war, homeland security," said Robert D. Holsworth, a professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University. "To the extent that people don't see this as a pocketbook election, I think there's much more attention being paid by the media and the public to these big issues . . . and they see it as a big election."