Sunday, October 10, 2004

A surge in voter registration that is setting records in the battleground states has led election forecasters to predict the largest increase in turnout in more than a decade.

With a little more than three weeks left before Election Day, election officials nationwide report that new voter registrations are still pouring in, boosting the number of registered voters in many states to levels never seen before.

“We have seen a real rush to become registered by eligible voters all over the country,” said Meredith Imwalle, spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State, the officials who tabulate and oversee elections and voter registration.

Election officials say that the sharp rise in registration is to a large degree the result of a much more intensive grass-roots canvassing campaign by the Republican and Democratic parties and the campaigns of the two presidential candidates, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry.

“They have been very aggressive, the most aggressive that I’ve seen in my career,” said Curtis Gans, who runs the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

The same political intensity that is driving voter registration to new highs likely will boost voter turnout as well, the analysts said.

“I don’t think there has been a more emotionally intense an election since 1968. Turnout will be up,” Mr. Gans said.

“It is likely that voter participation, which was at 54 percent in 2000, will reach or exceed the 58 percent level of 1992,” he said in a recent turnout-forecast report.

Complete state-by-state voter registration will not be available for another few weeks, but both parties said they were still signing up voters in the battleground states, in which the election is likely to be decided.

Republican National Committee (RNC) officials said they have signed up more than 3 million new Republican voters. Democratic National Committee (DNC) officials said they have exceeded that number, but refused to give any statistics Friday.

“The Democrats have not put out a number. We saw registration as part of our election strategy. It’s an area where the Republicans are playing catch-up,” DNC spokesman Tony Welch said. “They set their goals to create headlines. We’re looking for voters, and by all accounts our registration is far outpacing theirs.”

Whoever is ahead in the party registration race, a survey of selected states by The Washington Times showed that the number of new voters has spiked significantly in this election.

In Ohio, where polls showed Mr Bush leading, the total number of voters has jumped from 7.5 million in 2000 to 7.8 million this year. “We began the year with 7.1 million registered voters,” said Carlo LoParo, the spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell.

In Pennsylvania, a pivotal state where the president and Mr. Kerry were in a dead heat, a state election official said that he was seeing “certainly higher than normal registration.”

The total number of registered voters in Pennsylvania was said to be hitting 8 million, much higher than the 7.7 million registered to vote in the state’s April primaries or the 7.8 million who were registered to vote in 2000. “The counties are inundated with registration forms. Officials are working overtime and on Saturdays to handle them all,” said Brian McDonald, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.

So far, the state’s voter registration was “slightly leaning toward the Democrats,” Mr. McDonald said. In April, a breakdown of the state’s voter registration lists showed 3.7 million Democrats, 3.2 million Republicans and about 850,000 independents or third-party voters.

In Minnesota, another state where the race is in a statistical dead heat, there was a similar jump in the number of registered voters — from 2.84 million in 2002 to 2.91 million as of this month.

Signaling the possibility that many newly registered voters may be challenged on Election Day, an RNC official Friday said there were numerous reports of independent Democratic groups who were registering voters using bogus names.

“The Democrats have played differently this year. They are trying to keep people out of the process by blocking Ralph Nader’s efforts to get on the ballot, while at the same time they’ve outsourced their voter registration effort and have flooded the process with potentially bogus registration forms,” RNC spokesman Terry Holt said.

Mr. Holt said there were reports from Nevada’s Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, “saying many of the registrations have Freddy Krueger’s name on them,” the fictitious slasher in the horror movie, “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

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