Election officials across the Washington area report that they have been swamped with requests for absentee ballots in recent days, another indication that Tuesday's turnout could be one of the heaviest ever.
The interest in absentee ballots follows a last-minute surge in voter registration just before the rolls closed this month.
With five days until Election Day, many voters appear unwilling to leave anything to chance. Area election boards say phone lines have been jammed with callers trying to ensure that they are registered, that their address change has been noted, and that they will be able to vote.
Offices have been manned evenings and weekends to allow staff members to catch up, and extra staff and equipment have been requested.
"People are freaking out," said Charles County elections clerk Chris McDougal, who has fielded dozens of calls from voters worried that their registration cards hadn't yet arrived.
Anne Arundel election director Barbara Fisher said she was getting as many as 50 e-mails a day from voters worried about not receiving proof of their registration.
"It has been a problem," Fisher said. "But they're all out. The last of them went in the mail on Monday."
The picture is similar in the District, where registration is up and where the board of elections Web site cautions voters: "Do not panic if your name does not appear on the database search at this time."
District officials have received about 15,000 requests for absentee ballots, up from about 10,000 in 2000.
In Virginia, more than 200,000 absentee ballots have been requested across the state.
"We're going to break all records," said Jean Jensen, the state's elections chief.
In Montgomery County on Tuesday, the last day Maryland would accept written requests for absentee ballots, the 16 phone lines were so jammed that many people could not get through. An upgraded phone system is expected to be installed by Friday, county officials said.
"We are dealing with very high volume and intense interest," said administrative specialist Marjorie Roher at the Montgomery County elections office in Rockville.
With the new system, the calls will stack up in a queue, rather than force callers to call back because they keep getting a busy signal.
"What we found and heard from people is that they would prefer to be on hold. We have been getting a lot of complaints about the phone system," she said.
The surge in absentee ballot requests came as local election boards were still scrambling to deal with the higher volume of registrations. Montgomery has received requests for nearly 38,000 absentee votes. In 2000, about 24,000 voted absentee.
Fisher said Anne Arundel just finished processing the nearly 20,000 voter registration applications that came in from Sept. 1 to Oct. 12, and it is now working its way through 14,624 absentee ballot requests. In 2000, about 9,000 used absentee ballots.
"It was rough," she said. "We had to call the county for support. They sent us additional computers. It's just been massive."
Staff writers Lisa Rein and Paul Schwartzman contributed to this report.