Hundreds of residents in the District and Virginia scrambled to register to vote yesterday, hoping to beat the clock before last night’s deadline.
John Harold, general registrar for Fairfax City, said residents began lining up even before the office was open for business early yesterday morning, to register to vote.
“They followed me into the door at a quarter after eight,” Mr. Harold said. “And that was 15 minutes before we opened.”
Election officials in other parts of Northern Virginia and the District saw similar interest in voter registration yesterday, mirroring numbers that suggest more eligible residents are registering to vote in the presidential election this year than in the 2000 presidential election.
“There does seem to be a lot more interest this year in the election than there was in 2000 and I think we’ve had a record turnout today,” said Donna Patterson, deputy registrar for Arlington County.
As of Friday, election officials in Arlington had registered 3,484 new voters, compared with the 2,201 who had registered by the same date in 2000.
Election officials in the District also have seen more voter registrations, with a 9 percent jump in the number of registered voters since 2000. According to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, 368,477 people were registered to vote as of Sept. 14, compared with 338,860 in mid-September of 2000.
Election Day is Nov. 2.
Local voter-registration offices yesterday were packed with residents who turned out at the last minute to fill out registration forms.
At the Arlington County registrar’s office, volunteers wearing red shirts helped the steady flow of residents who wanted to register or vote by absentee ballot. Many county residents said the importance of this year’s presidential election was the key factor in their decision to register.
“The last time I registered to vote, I missed the cutoff,” said Alastair Walling, 27, of Arlington. “This is the most important election since 1912;… the country kind of goes one way or it goes the other.”
Danielle Schulz, 18, and her boyfriend Angelo Tsampas, 19, both of Arlington, registered for the first time yesterday.
“I just want to vote to make sure the president I want to win is going to win,” Miss Schulz said. “I’ve just kind of been putting it off, but I wanted to make sure I got it done. There are too many Democrats in Arlington and I want George Bush to win.”
Many voters like Melanie Andersen, 23, who had just moved to the Arlington area from Salt Lake City, and needed to update their registration. Miss Andersen said her friends who work on Capitol Hill made sure she registered.
“I’ve only been here a week and wasn’t familiar with the area, but I got two e-mails from two different people today telling me to go out and do it,” Miss Andersen said. “It was the last day, and I think this is going to be a tight election where every vote counts more so than ever.”
Robin Mugass, 32, brought her 6-month-old daughter Grace with her to the registrar’s office. Mrs. Mugass, who recently moved to Arlington from Maryland, said she didn’t realize it was the last day to register in Virginia until she heard it on the morning news.
“I believe it’s our civic duty — you don’t have an opinion if you don’t vote,” she said. “I don’t like to hear people complaining if they don’t get out and vote.”
Across the Potomac River, Bill O’Field, a spokesman for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, said yesterday’s registration activity may be one for the record books.
“By the time we close tonight, it could be record-breaking,” Mr. O’Field said.
As a result, the board’s director, Alice P. Miller, extended the board’s office hours until 7 p.m. to accommodate the increased number of would-be voters stopping by the office building at 441 Fourth Street NW. The office usually closes at 4:45 p.m.
Earlier in the day, a single-file line of D.C. registrants nearly snaked outside the board’s office. Housekeeper Wayne McLaurin, 48, said he stopped by just to make sure he was registered.
“I thought I did it before, but I wasn’t sure, so I wanted to make sure,” Mr. McLaurin said. “It’s a very important election — the war, economy, school systems — if you want some kind of change, you can’t be mad if you didn’t vote. That’s how it was before, but I didn’t vote, so it didn’t matter. Now I’m going to keep on voting.”
Tom Parkins, general registrar in Alexandria, said his office also was swamped with registration questions, even though the city has seen only a 2 percent jump in voter registrations since 2000,.
“The phone is ringing constantly,” Mr. Parkins said. “We have probably eight, nine people answering the phone and calls typically are backed up, but we’re able to get to them within reasonable time.”
The same scene was replayed in more than a dozen states including Georgia, Colorado and Ohio yesterday. Many officials reported record numbers of new voters, some said they were overwhelmed, and accusations were already flying about fraud and the disqualification of some voters’ applications.
Both the Democrats and the Republicans have poured resources into registering voters, spurred by the near deadlock of the 2000 presidential race and polls that predict another tight election this year.
A complete accounting of the registration figures across each state, let alone the country, won’t be finished for several weeks, as officials continue to accept postmarked registration forms.
Other states’ deadlines fall later this week and month. Maryland’s voter-registration deadline is Oct. 12.