Voter rolls set record

Registration jumped 24 percent since 2000

`People care about the outcome'

Additional election judges hired to handle increase

Carroll County

October 21, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Nearly 101,000 Carroll County voters are registered and eligible to vote in the Nov. 2 election, a record number that added almost 20,000 residents to voter rolls in the past four years.

Registration has jumped a record 24 percent since the 2000 presidential election, officials said. The deadline for registration was Oct. 12, a day when election offices remained open until 9 p.m. and nearly 1,000 residents registered.

"We have reached unprecedented numbers," said Patricia Matsko, Carroll's elections board director. "We have more absentee ballots than ever, and the requests for them continue to be heavy."

More than 3,000 residents have applied for absentee ballots. Residents have until Tuesday to request an absentee ballot by mail. After that, they will have to pick up one at the elections board in Westminster.

The numbers have surprised even veteran election workers like Matsko and Gail Carter, her deputy chief, who has spent several weeks hiring additional elections judges. Since the March primary, Carroll County has hired 110 judges, for a total of 536, to keep the lines down and answer questions about the new voting machines, Matsko said.

"These increases are a signal to me that a lot of people care about the outcome of this election and are planning to vote," Matsko said. "We have had people of all age groups and people who have never registered before. I think we will be looking at the largest turnout ever here and across the state."

Nearly 80 percent of Carroll's electorate voted four years ago and gave George W. Bush nearly 70 percent of that vote.

The final count on registered voters from the county board of elections comprises 52,985 Republicans, 33,948 Democrats and a little more than 14,000 independent and third-party voters. Registered Republicans grew by more than 14,000 since the 2000 primary. Democrats added 4,692 to their previous total.

"I think this means the Democrats just have to work harder to register more people," said Laura O'Callaghan, chairwoman of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee. "When people know what Democrats stand for and how their choices affect families, they will find Democratic positions more appealing."

Both local parties have worked on registration drives throughout the past several months, manning booths at fire company carnivals and community events.

"We had a good grass-roots registration campaign, with many volunteers going door to door," said David Jones, chairman of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee. "I think the increase is due to that and to the passion people feel about this election. They realize their vote is the only way to make a statement."

Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll's all-Republican legislative delegation, credits the registration drives and the ease of registering. He said customers often take one of the voter registration forms from the reception desk at his real estate office in Westminster. He mailed one recently to a 19-year-old soldier who had just returned from Iraq.

"He called me and said he wanted to vote," Haines said. "Now I know he will."

Haines said he has "seen a fairly progressive increase in Republicans since 1990, and the last four years has been the largest increase."

While the county population has grown to 166,000, Democrats have not kept pace.

"I think our turnout this year will go way over 80 percent," Haines said.

"This presidential election is probably the most critical of all we have had in many years."

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