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Voter registration rush is on

October 12, 2004|BY BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Today is the proverbial 11th hour for those planning to register to vote in the Nov. 2 general election.

To help the procrastinators make today's deadline, the local election board is extending its hours.

The Washington County Board of Elections office at 35 W. Washington St. will be open today from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., said Election Director Dorothy Kaetzel.

Kaetzel said board employees have been inundated with phone calls and people stopping in at the office to ask about registering before tonight's deadline.

Kaetzel said an estimated 7,000 people have registered since Jan. 1, and 1,938 of those registered within the last month.

She said 903 of them registered as Republicans and 582 as Democrats.

Kaetzel said the increase, compared to the months leading up to the 2000 presidential election, has been tremendous. She said about 1,300 people registered to vote in September, more than double the 600 who did so in September 2000.

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"It's a national thing because of all the controversy in the 2000 election," Kaetzel said. "Their vote counts, and I think everybody realizes that."

Several people who registered to vote Monday for the first time said they were doing so because they wanted President Bush out of office. Citing embarrassment for having never voted before, they declined to provide their names.

In direct contrast, Carolyn Kesselring, 51, of Hagerstown, said she registered for the first time in her life Monday because she wanted to keep "a good, moral man" in office and because it was "about time."

"I've never voted, and I guess I don't have the right to complain if I don't do my part," she said.

Board employees said Kesselring is representative of a large portion of newly registered voters, those placing their names on the election rolls for the first time despite being eligible for more than 20 years.

"We're getting a lot of people in their 40s and 50s that have never voted," said Doris James, an election clerk. "The last guy that was in here was at least 50."

To register to vote in Maryland, a person is required to be a U.S. citizen, a Maryland resident, at least 18 years of age by the time of the next general election, not be under guardianship for a mental disability, not have been convicted of buying/selling votes or of a crime of violence.

The process of registering at the board office takes about five minutes, Kaetzel said.

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