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Registrations for voters rise as election draws nearer

August 22, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE - Tri-State election officials say new voter registrations are coming in as the 2004 presidential election nears.

Last month, the Washington County Board of Elections registered 701 new voters, said Dorothy Kaetzel, the county's election director.

Typically, the office handles about 300 or 400 registrations per month, she said.

There are 73,660 registered voters in Washington County. Kaetzel said high voter registration in a presidential year is not unusual, but this year's turnout has been higher than past presidential elections.

Numbers may be up, in part, because it is easy to register. Of the 701 new voters that registered in July, only 10 did so in Kaetzel's office. All the others were forwarded to the office from outside voter registration locations.

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She said many of the new voters registered through the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, commonly known as The Motor Voter Act, allows citizens to register when they are getting a driver's license, according to Jan Hejl, a representative with the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Washington County voters have until Oct. 12 to register for the Nov. 2 presidential election.

Since the end of July, Jefferson County, W.Va.. has averaged about 70 new registered voters a week, voter registration clerk Teresa Cooper said. She said several area civic and church groups have been holding voter registration drives to recruit new voters throughout the county.

Election officials in Berkeley County, W.Va., said the area's population growth has been the biggest factor in expanding voter rolls.

"We're overwhelmed with applications," Berkeley County Deputy Clerk Bonnie Woodfall said. "Hopefully, we'll have a good turnout."

Woodfall said 506 new voters registered between Aug. 3 and 13.

In Morgan County, W.Va., only 600 voters have registered since January, Deputy Clerk Heather Tyler said.

"They've been pretty steady, no huge influx yet," Tyler said.

Voters in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties have until Oct. 13 to register.

Since February, Franklin County, Pa., has averaged 497 new voters a month, Chief Registrar Jennie M. Aines said. Voters there have until Oct. 4 to register.

"We've been receiving a lot of phone calls," Aines said. "They're getting their 18-year-olds registered. A lot of people are also calling in to make sure they're registered to vote."

Kaetzel said she expects the registration rate to continue through the Oct. 12 deadline. But she said it's not an indicator of what voter turnout will be in Washington County.

"In the 2000 election, our turnout was only 68.57 percent. It was among the worst in the state," Kaetzel said. "We have a lot of people who register, but that doesn't mean they'll turn out to vote."

West Virginia and Pennsylvania election officials said they also expect a higher voter turnout for the presidential election. But they agree that a high voter registration does not guarantee a strong turnout at the polls.

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