Carroll County elections officials see a surge in voter registration

Numbers have increased by 20 percent since 2000

September 22, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County's board of elections is seeing an unusually large rise in registered voters, posting a 20 percent increase in the rolls since the 2000 presidential election.

With three weeks to go before the Oct. 12 registration deadline and six weeks before the Nov. 2 presidential election, the county has registered 97,541 voters, an increase of 16,281 in the past four years. Elections officials are adding more voters daily, with 1,700 registered last month.

"There is always a surge before an election, but that is an incredible amount for one month," said Patricia Matsko, Carroll's elections board director. "I think people are deciding that they want a say in what is an important election."

The county has been steadily increasing its rolls all summer through registration drives at fire company carnivals, churches and civic groups, she said.

State elections officials see a correlation between population increase and voter registration. Carroll's population grew by nearly 16,000 in the past four years, said Bill Cain, a county comprehensive planner.

"A good portion of that increase would be young adults, usually with middle-to-high income with a higher level of education," Cain said. "Those are people who have probably decided this election is a big one. Still, 20 percent is a big jump."

Statewide, nearly 3 million people are registered to vote, but state elections officials declined to comment on increases in registration since 2000 other than to provide charts of voters by county.

"That is not an analysis that we would have performed," said Donna Duncan, state elections spokeswoman.

The Republican Party, which has dominated Carroll politics for nearly two decades, swelled by nearly 10,000 voters, while the Democrats added 2,884 since 2000. Republicans now outnumber Democrats by nearly 18,000 voters. Independent and third-party voters accounted for additional increases in registration.

Both major parties have mounted strong voter registration drives.

"We registered 181 new Republicans just at the carnivals," said Michelle Jefferson, chairwoman of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee. "We are still doing an all-out push, and I am sure the Democrats are, too."

Laura O'Callaghan, chairwoman of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee, said the party is focusing on organizing members and involving them in the election. More than 350 Democrats have volunteered to work on the local campaign, she said.

"The Republicans are definitely out-registering us, and we have our work cut out for us," O'Callaghan said. "But we have had an incredible improvement in activism among Democrats this summer and fall."

In 2000, 79 percent of Carroll's registered voters went to the polls and gave George W. Bush 65 percent of the vote. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the state's first Republican governor in more than three decades, won 79 percent of the Carroll County vote in 2002, the widest margin in all of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions. Carroll Democrats did not win any major office in the 2002 election.

Residents can register to vote from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 2 and Oct. 9 at election headquarters in the Center Street annex in Westminster. On the Oct. 12 deadline, the board will remain open until 9 p.m. and the five branches of the county library also will accept registration forms from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The county elections board will mail sample ballots to all registered voters Oct. 22.

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