Marjorie Roher has never seen the mail flood into her office like it has in past weeks -- five tubs a day, each with 1,000 to 1,500 applications from Montgomery County residents eager to vote in the Nov. 2 presidential election.
By the time registration ends at 9 tonight, the county expects to add 13,000 voters in just 12 days, said Roher, an administrative specialist for the Board of Elections. Baltimore has had as many applications in the past two weeks as it received in all of September, said Barbara Jackson, the city's elections director.
Statewide, the number of registered voters is approaching 3 million, already up nearly 10 percent from the last presidential election.
"Voter registration is historically very high prior to a presidential general election, but it appears to be even higher than in the past," said Donna Duncan, director of the election management division at the state Board of Elections.
Virginia and the District also experienced similar surges in voter registration prior to their deadlines last week. About twice as many voters -- 66,000 -- signed up in the Old Dominion in September as registered that month four years ago. And there are nearly 30,000 more registered voters in the District than there were at the same point before the 2000 election, according to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
Some Maryland officials are expecting lines at elections offices today, given that it's now too late to mail registration applications. And the cards, which require original signatures, cannot be faxed or sent by e-mail. Already, election board staff members have been working 10-hour days and six or seven days a week to process forms.
The surge in registration reflects not just the excitement about this year's close contest between President Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry, but it also suggests that concerted efforts by both campaigns, civic groups and churches have been successful in signing up new voters, officials and politicians say.
In Prince George's County, for instance, churches have taken an active role in signing up new people. "In the last two months, we have registered about 300 new voters," said the Rev. Grainger Browning Jr., pastor of the 10,000-member Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington. "Every time we had an event like the annual church picnic, we registered people to vote."
Nationally, a coalition of political, business and civic organizations in the black community has registered nearly 1 million voters, a coordinator said. Statewide, in Maryland, Democrats have gone door-to-door, attended festivals and set up booths at shopping centers to register voters.
"From the Pennsylvania border to St. Mary's County, we've been registering voters like crazy," said Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party.
Republicans say they have done the same in "Republican-friendly" counties, but so far have made no dent in the 2 to 1 advantage that Democrats enjoy among registered voters in Maryland.
In fact, at the end of August, Democrats had 745,000 more voters than their GOP colleagues, up from 720,000 at the end of last year. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Maryland's first Republican governor in a generation, has pledged to help improve the party's odds.
Deborah Martinez, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party, said the GOP targeted specific counties across the state and has made some progress over the last few months in recruiting new members.
"We were able to overtake Calvert County," Martinez said. "It now has an "R." And in St. Mary's and Harford, we're closing the gap."
Martinez would not provide numbers on the GOP voter-switch campaign, which is designed to persuade Democrats to change their registrations. For now, she said, the party is focused on making sure registered voters are aware of the next deadline they face: Oct. 26 for sending in absentee ballots.
"We want to make sure we encourage people who are going to be out of town to get their absentee ballots," Martinez said. "Right now, we have an e-mail campaign reminding people of that."