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October 06, 2004

IF THERE was one lesson to be drawn from the presidential election debacle of 2000, it was that a handful of votes can make a huge difference. Happily, it appears the instruction was well learned.

Reports from battleground states around the nation suggest new voter registrations are coming in by the box and barrel full - nearly 600,000 in Florida, where the 2000 race was settled by a margin of 537 votes; perhaps as many in Ohio as well. From Georgia to Michigan to nearby Pennsylvania and Virginia, voting registrars say business is booming.

In Maryland, new registrations rose in August to 46,362, almost double the 25,580 registrations chalked up in August 2000. Books will remain open here until 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12. Forms can be obtained online, but must be mailed into state or county election boards or delivered in person by the deadline. Anyone who wants to have an impact on public policy should sign up while there's still time.

The surge of new interest is attributed not only to lingering bitterness from 2000, but also to the intensity of this year's contest between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry. Voter registration drives are being conducted on a grand scale, not only by the two campaigns but by their respective supporters far and wide.

It's not clear which party stands to benefit most from the swelling rolls. The Maryland numbers for August tend to favor Democrats, who outnumbered Republicans by 2.4 to 1, compared with their 2-to-1 advantage in Maryland's total voter registration.

What's important is that all these newly registered voters make sure they get to the polls. Only 57 percent of Maryland's eligible voters turned out four years ago, and even fewer - 55 percent - nationwide. The stakes are too high to justify taking a pass.

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