State News

Registration deadline brings flurry to elections offices

Posted October 10, 2008 5:41 a.m. EDT
Updated October 13, 2008 9:30 a.m. EDT

— A flurry of activity in elections offices statewide peaked Friday in the hours leading up to the 5 p.m. deadline for voter registration

Those who didn't register by Friday still have the option of registering and voting at a one-stop voting site between Oct. 16 and Nov. 1. They must register and vote at the same time, however, and cannot vote on Election Day.

Friday's deadline meant another wave of paperwork for election workers.

North Carolina added more than 600,000 registered voters to its rolls in the first nine months of the year, swamping election officials, who are scrambling to process the paperwork of those eager to cast a ballot.

"Pretty much all the staff is working on no sleep," said Gary Sims, deputy direction of the Wake County elections office. "Everyone is just in that mode to get stuff in. We know how important this election is, so everyone is working hard to get it done."

Twins Paul and Joe Hesselblad were part of the deadline rush.

"He actually was in California for the last presidential election, so he's not registered at all here," Paul Hesselblad said. "I voted in the last presidential election, and this is is more important than the last one."

"I woke up this morning, (and) he said, 'You have to register.' I said, 'OK, let's do it,'" Joe Hesselblad said with a laugh.

Cherie Poucher, director of the Wake County elections office, said she loves the added interest the election has created.

"Democracy's a wonderful thing, and the more people that participate in it, the happier we are," Poucher said. "It's a lot of extra work. But to see the interest – to see people getting ready to exercise their right to vote – is a good feeling."

The deadline marked an end to a historic registration period in which a heated Democratic primary began a voter-registration surge that has continued unabated as Election Day has approached.

Democrats have enrolled 290,808 of the new registrants since Jan. 1, while 128,162 new voters have enrolled with the GOP.

Democratic hopeful Barack Obama hopes to take advantage of the disparity to become the first from his party to win the state in presidential balloting in more than three decades. Adding to the furor, North Carolina also has two of the most-watched races in the nation for U.S. Senate and the governor's office.

"I believe that we will be over 4.2 million voters who participate in this election, and that will be somewhere around 68 percent turnout of registered voters," said Gary Bartlett, director of the State Board of Elections.

Poucher said thousands of new registrations have poured into her office each day since the start of the month. Her staff moved into a new room to handle all the paperwork, sorting piles of envelopes and buckets of mail seven days a week. Hundreds of phone calls come in each day from voters wondering if they are registered.

She warned new registrants their voter card may arrive a little late this year because of the backlog, but said all who signed up on time will be able to vote.

"Generally, in a normal time, what we get in on Monday is processed Tuesday," she said. "But when you start getting thousands and thousands a day, it will take longer to get through them all. But we will."

Bartlett encouraged voters to take advantage of early voting so that tempers don't flare in long lines on Election Day. He's hoping that some 35 percent of voters cast a ballot before Nov. 4 to relieve some of the strain.

"We hope that every person that wants to vote before Election Day chooses that option or a mail absentee ballot," he said. "That would take a tremendous burden off on Election Day."

Statewide, 368 one-stop voting spots will open next Thursday – 100 more sites than North Carolina has had previously – including some at shopping malls that will be operating on weekends.

"The way we look at it, maybe you might still stand in line at an early-voting site, but why take a chance at having to maybe stand in line three or four hours on Election Day," Sims said. "(There is) just no need to take a chance in this election. Get out there and vote, and vote early."