New voters register in record numbers

October 07, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Would-be voters turned out in record numbers to beat the registration deadline for the Nov. 3 election.

"It was a real good mix," said Barbara Feaga, Howard County election board administrator. "There was no particular group represented. They were all procrastinators."

As she spoke, Ms. Feaga looked over a dozen stacks of registration cards each about eight inches high. "This is less than half the volume," she said. "The rest is in the back room."

Ms. Feaga estimates Monday's total will exceed 3,000. At least 1,500 people showed up in person and another 1,500 were registered by volunteer groups who brought the cards to the board right up to the 9 p.m. deadline, Ms. Feaga said.

And that doesn't include mail. Ms. Feaga expects a high volume in the next two days. To be considered, however, cards will have to have a Monday postmark.

Election board traffic was backed up to the U.S. 40-U.S. 29 intersection for most of the day and the phone rang continuously, Ms. Feaga said. "One worker keeping track stopped counting at 280, and we had 10 people taking calls," she said.

Ms. Feaga placed a sign in front of the office on U.S. 40 -- something covenants prohibited her from doing when the office was in Columbia -- but it wasn't enough. People stopped strangers in the post office and in grocery stores to ask directions. A couple of people even showed up at Monday night's council meeting, asking where the board was located.

It will take at least 10 days for the board to enter the names, addresses, phone numbers and precincts of the new voters into the election board computers, Ms. Feaga said. It is a labor-intensive process that requires a lot of double-checking.

To help speed things along, Ms. Feaga has hired 10 temporary employees.

Even so, "we're going to be putting in a lot of overtime," she says

with a laugh. "A lot of overtime. We don't have any choice. We've got to get it done."

Ms. Feaga estimates that 17,128 new voters were added to the rolls in the last three months -- 3,428 in August, an estimated 5,700 in September and an estimated 8,000 for the first five days of October. The high interest will lead to an 86 percent turnout in November, she believes.

As of mid-August, there were 100,364 registered voters -- 50,202 Democrats, 36,870 Republicans, 12,397 independents, 32 Libertarians and 863 others.

Henry C. Marshall, a Ross Perot supporter and former voter registration chairman for the local GOP, thinks the turnout will be even higher.

He predicts a 91 percent turnout, saying Howard County will lead the state regardless.

"We led the state with 83.6 percent in 1988," he said, "and this time it will be higher with abortion and Perot on the ballot.

"These people who registered want to vote. They are a very intelligent, well-educated electorate."

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