Would-be voters crowded into government offices, stood patiently in line and hunched over forms yesterday during the final rush in Virginia and the District to register for the Nov. 2 elections.
They were part of a nationwide surge in new-voter registrations that elections officials and civic groups think is the result of the hotly contested presidential election.
"There seem to be passions running deeply on both sides this year," said Wes Weidemann, founder of Virginia Votes, which he describes as a nonpartisan group that has registered almost 4,000 new voters in Alexandria and Arlington and Fairfax counties since August. "There are a number of people getting involved who have never been involved before."
Yesterday was the last day to register in Virginia and the District in time for this year's election. In Maryland, which also has seen an increase in new registrations this year, the deadline is 5 p.m. Oct. 12.
In Virginia, almost twice as many voters -- 66,000 -- registered in September as registered in September 2000.
In all, said Jean Jensen, director of the Virginia Board of Elections, the state had 4.45 million registered voters as of Friday.
D.C. election officials predicted that a surge in registration yesterday could break city records for a presidential general election.
Already, the number of District voters registered by the end of September had climbed 9 percent, to 368,719, from 2000.
There are nearly 30,000 more registered voters in the District than there were at the same point before the 2000 election, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics said.
"This is a significant increase in the voter roll," said Alice P. Miller, executive director of the election board. "Based on the registration activity level at the board's headquarters today, the number of registered voters by the 7 p.m. deadline could be record-breaking."
At the Fairfax County General Registrar's office at lunchtime yesterday, would-be voters streamed in to grab a paper application, take a seat at a desk to fill it out and then stand in line to await processing by a clerk.
"It's a constant line out there -- anywhere from 25 to 30 people," said Fairfax General Registrar Diane McIntyre, who said her office's 77 phone lines were busy all day.
Nancy Mirsaid, a 63-year-old McLean hairdresser, said she rushed to the registrar's office after learning it was the last day to register to vote. Although Mirsaid has been a U.S. citizen since 1974, she has stayed out of the voting booth. "Never done it in my life," said Mirsaid, who immigrated to the United States from Iran in 1967.
But Mirsaid said she is unhappy with President Bush's decision to go to war against Iraq and decided to make her voice heard. She said she plans to vote for Sen. John F. Kerry for president -- not that she's expecting miracles if he were to win.
"If Kerry comes in, he can't change it, but he can probably be a little bit better," she said.
Anger at George Bush and his administration's decision to invade Iraq also propelled William Cavanaugh, 66, a retiree who lives in Burke, into the registrar's office to fill out his first voter-registration application.
"I just decided that before he declared war on the rest of the world, I wanted to have some say about it," Cavanaugh said.
Salesman Marc Permut, 33, used his lunch break to register. Permut said he decided that the presidential election was too important for him to sit on the sidelines again, even though he is still undecided.
"There's a lot more at stake in this election than there has been before," said Permut, who lives in Alexandria.
Bush supporter Rebecca Crissey agreed. A Fairfax County teacher and already a registered voter, Crissey went to the registrar's office to double-check that her address was correct.
She said she believed Bush was doing a good job and wanted to make doubly sure she was properly registered to vote.
"I just think it's really important to support Bush's foreign affairs," said Crissey, 27.
Staff writer Yolanda Woodlee contributed to this report.