- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2004

RICHMOND — Virginians are turning out in heavy numbers across the state to beat today’s voter registration deadline for the Nov. 2 election, state and local election officials said.

Pair the demand from partisan groups, interests ranging from unions to nursing homes, and young voters uncharacteristically energized by this year’s race with a spike in absentee ballot applications, and it portends a large voter turnout, officials said.

“This is the most activity I’ve been party to in my 12 years here, total,” said Gary Ellis, voter-registration coordinator for the State Board of Elections in Richmond.

“We’ve seen everything from local and national political parties, businesses, youth college groups like the Young Democrats and the Young Republicans — just a slew of college groups calling to do registration drives,” Mr. Ellis said.

Final statewide registration figures won’t be available until sometime next week, after the registration deadline passes at 5 p.m. today.

As of Sept. 1, however, registration in Virginia was nearly 4.4 million, up from slightly less than 4 million at the same point in 2000.

With the contest between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry entering its final month, activity has jumped sharply, said Jean Jensen, secretary of the elections board.

She said September registrations were up by about 10,000 from the same period in 2000, even though Virginia had a hotly contested U.S. Senate race four years ago and has no statewide election on this year’s ballot.

Registration is particularly heavy in the District’s closest Virginia suburbs, which traditionally vote heavily Democratic.

Arlington County’s registrar, Linda Lindberg, has counted about 4,000 new registrations in the past month, “and that doesn’t include address changes of people who move here from other places,” she said.

Registration surges every presidential election year, registrars say. Turnout is also heavier when the nation elects its commander in chief every four years.

“But it’s so much busier this year than in other presidential years. I brought in my temporary staffers two or three weeks earlier than in previous years just because the demand is so great,” Miss Lindberg said. “And the absentees are nearly double what they were four years ago.”

By this time four years ago, Arlington County had mailed out 1,591 absentee ballots, she said. As of Friday, Miss Lindberg said, “It’s up to more than 4,000. It’s staggering, let me tell you.”

In neighboring Alexandria, there has been a notable jump in partisan voter outreach, said Tom Parkins, the city’s general registrar.

“There’s so much more activity around the neighborhoods, the registration tables out in front of the grocery stores and things that are often done by the League of Women Voters,” Mr. Parkins said.

The increase in absentee ballot applications is even more pronounced, he said. “We’ll probably vote 50 percent-plus more absentees than we did four years ago.”

Arlington County’s treasurer, Frank O’Leary, a self-described election statistics “geek,” said absentee ballots are a reliable predictor of election turnout.

Based on this year’s demand, he expects 88 percent to 90 percent of the county’s voters will go to the polls. That would top the 1992 turnout of nearly 85 percent, which was the highest in years, he said.

“My sense is that these people are not rushing in here to vote for President Bush,” he said. “There is a very strong anti-war sentiment in Arlington and Alexandria, and that’s somewhat perverse, really, because the number one industry in Arlington is national defense. That’s what we do for a living.”

The Pentagon and numerous defense contractors are within Mr. O’Leary’s jurisdiction.

Registration and absentee demands were up in smaller localities, too.

In Covington, registration was more brisk than it had been since 1980. In Martinsville, registration was up slightly even though the city has lost much of its population in recent years with the closure of most of the textile and furniture plants that were once the heart of its economy, said city registrar Ercell Cowan.

In Norfolk, college groups have waged vigorous registration drives, said Elisa Long, the city registrar. In Roanoke County, the young and the old were registering in noteworthy numbers, said registrar Diane Henson. “Surprisingly, we’re seeing a lot of older people register for the first time,” she said.

“There’s just more interest in this one than in 2000. I don’t know why,” Miss Henson said. “We’ve done 700-some-odd [registrations] this month.”

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