State sets voter registration record in ’08

Published 10:55 pm Monday, October 27, 2008

MONTGOMERY – Alabamians are registering to vote and casting absentee ballots in record numbers, causing election officials to prepare for an unprecedented turnout on Nov. 4.

Friday, the final day to register to vote in Alabama in the general election, brought such a last-minute rush that officials say it will take a couple more days to process all the applications. But as of late Monday afternoon, Alabama’s voter rolls stood 2,371 names short of the 3 million mark.

“The primary factor is the presidential race,” said Ed Packard, the state’s supervisor of voter registration.

The previous record was 2.88 million names in the 2000 presidential election, Packard said.

Shirley Short, head of the Board of Registrars in Mobile County, described the last day of voter registration as a “madhouse.”

“We put on extra help, about doubled our office staff,” she said. “Every presidential election is busy, but this was very busy. Lots of new voters.”

Thursday is the deadline to request an absentee ballot. Throughout the state, election officials are reporting more requests for absentee ballots than ever before. People wanting to cast absentee ballots in person are also filling election offices.

In Huntsville on Monday, absentee manager Jane Smith said Madison County already was close to breaking the previous record of 7,900 absentee ballots for an election, set in 2004, and hundreds of ballots are arriving daily in the mail a week before Election Day.

She said applicants who seek a ballot in person are having to wait in short lines before voting.

“It was busy four years ago, but not this busy,” Smith said.

Walk-in voters had to wait about 20 minutes Monday to cast an absentee ballot in heavily Republican Shelby County, and the absentee office in Birmingham, the state’s largest city, was flooded with ballots coming in by mail.

In Montgomery County, the county election center originally had 18 chairs for people wanting to cast absentee ballots in person, but had to add 20 more to meet demand.

Election director Trey Granger said the county had already handled 5,000 requests for absentee ballots and will probably end up with more than 7,000.

A normal election brings 3,500 to 4,000, he said.

“I think we will see records set for voter registration, absentee voting and voter turnout,” he said.

In Mobile County, voters wanting to cast absentee ballots in person had to wait in a long line Monday.

“It’s worth the wait,” said 49-year-old truck driver Richard Jones of Mobile, who will be on the road on election day.

Secretary of State Beth Chapman, Alabama’s chief election official, said interest in the election is unprecedented, and county election officials are adding extra poll workers to meet the anticipated turnout on Nov. 4.

“I do think that it will be the highest number, by far, that Alabama has ever seen in any election,” she said.