Howard County's 100,000th registered voter sparks no fanfare

August 16, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

In the old days -- that's 25 years ago by Howard County reckoning -- it might have been cause for celebration.

But when the 100,000th person registered to vote here last week, hardly anyone noticed.

"No bells went off," said Barbara W. Feaga, election board administrator.

The Election Board doesn't even know who the 100,000th voter is -- or whether the person is a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian or someone registered as Other.

The only thing the board can tell you is how registrations, now totaling 100,364, are broken down: 50,202 Democrats, 36,870 Republicans, 12,397 Independents, 32 Libertarians, and 863 Others.

The days of people coming in and registering in person are over. Although the practice is still allowed, people register by mail or at shopping centers during voter-registration drives. All the board ever sees is a card. The card of the unknown voter -- the 100,000th person to register -- was among those the board received in the mail Monday.

How different from 25 years ago. The county was so small -- 18,000 voters -- it didn't even have precincts. People had to be physically present to register. They had to raise their hands and take an oath that they were U.S. citizens and had never been convicted of an infamous crime.

They also had to answer a lot of intrusive questions. They had to name their spouses and state their race.

Today, most of the intrusive questions are gone. Registrants still have to reveal the date and place of their birth, but can merely indicate that they are U.S. citizens. They no longer have to prove it.

The oath is still on the registration card, only now it is signed rather than administered. What people are signing, under penalty of perjury and a maximum of 10 years imprisonment, is that they have not been convicted more than once of an infamous crime and are not under the guardianship of someone else because of a mental disability.

In the old days, Republican Carol Henningsen and Democrat Dottie Nazelrod were appointed by their central committees to staff the election office two days a week. They knew each voter by face, if not by name, and could direct you to any street in the county.

Twenty-five years later, they still work desk-to-desk at the Election Board, only now, they are career government employees no longer dependent on the patronage of their respective central committees. They have trouble keeping up with the names of neighborhoods, much less streets. In their time together, they must have engaged in a lot of partisan wrangling.

"Oh hardly," Ms. Henningsen says with a laugh. "We are mirror images of each other. I'm left-handed, she's right-handed. We don't do anything without the other."

"The one thing we miss [from the old days] is the personal contact" with the voters, Ms. Nazelrod says. Between now and Oct. 5, the registration deadline for the Nov. 3 presidential election, the Election Board staff expects to process the applications of another 10,000 to 11,000 voters. Half the population -- the county grew to 200,000 in January according to the county planning office -- is already registered.

To accommodate the expected registration rush and process address changes of those already registered, the election office will open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays from Sept. 12 to Oct. 3. It will also maintain its regular 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekday schedule.

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