Elections Office Buzzing
If the 2008 presidential election is historic because of its firsts, then the preamble of registration and early voting is no less historic.
Voters dashed to the Moore County Board of Elections office in Carthage all day Friday, the last day to register to vote in the Nov. 4 general election.
The elections office received 231 new registrations from walk-ins and other sources. The final tally won't be known until forms sent by mail, which had to be postmarked Friday, are counted.
"It is a large number, and if our box is full with mail-ins, it may certainly set a record," Elections Director Glenda Clendenin said Friday night.
As of Oct. 1, more than 59,000 names were on the county books.
That enthusiasm is also reflected in the huge number of requests for absentee ballots.
As of Friday morning, the county office had received 2,530 requests for absentee ballots by mail. These are in addition to thousands of registrants who will vote early in person through the one-stop method of absentee voting. In 2004, more than 10,000 voters used that method.
At lunchtime Friday, three people were filling out registration forms at the small round table near the entrance of the elections office on Pinehurst Avenue in Carthage. Two were at the counter, and a third was at a desk at the end of the lobby.
"Right now, the country is in a bad situation," said Wayne Pruitt, who registered for the first time Friday morning. "The economy is my main reason (for registering as a Republican). It's hard to make a living, and gas prices are out of control."
Pruitt was among several people who registered on the last day the books were open before the general election.
The 30-year-old Carthage man has served eight years in the Marine Corps and now operates a small business here. Pruitt said he had not gotten around to voting earlier because of his military service and a previous stay in Rockingham County. But now he has come back home to Moore County and started a family and he's thinking seriously about the future.
"It's the experience thing," Pruitt said, adding that he also likes Sen. John McCain's military background. "Obama kind of scares me. He's a great speaker, but McCain has more experience."
Fred Cole, who lives on Big Oak Church Road, also registered Friday, but this was not his first time to register. Cole grew up in Moore County but later moved to Randolph County, where he lived and worked for 28 years before returning to his home community to be close to his ailing father. His precinct is Eagle Springs.
Cole registered as a Democrat.
"I've always been a Democrat, but I'm not a 'yellow-dog' Democrat," he said. "I've probably voted for as many Republicans as I've voted for Democrats. I'm definitely not going to vote a straight Democratic ticket this year."
Cole said he doesn't think the blame for the present economic situation is entirely that of President Bush or any other individual.
"I feel the fault is in the leadership from both parties," Cole said. "It's going to take cooperation of both parties to turn this nation around. We have to have some faith in our country, something that obviously we don't have right now."
Michael Smith, 20, said he was registering for the first time. A Pinehurst resident, he attends Sandhills Community College and also holds a job. He registered Republican and said he plans to vote a straight Republican ticket, as well as for McCain.
"It's a decision I made for myself," Smith said.
Ella Ross of Cameron also visited the elections office Friday although her name was already on the registration book. She was just making sure her registration was up to date.
"I didn't want to be left out," she said.
Ross plans to vote for Sen. Barack Obama.
"I like Obama," she said.
Unaffiliated Ranks Grow
Growth in the number of people registering as Democrats has been dramatic in some parts of the country this year, but that trend has not been reflected dramatically on the Moore County books.
For the past 20 years, the Republican Party has dominated the political scene here.
County Elections Director Clendenin said there has been growth in Democratic registrations, but also among Republicans. The biggest percentage is in the unaffiliated category. She estimates that since Jan. 1, Democrats have picked up 1,000 registrants, Republicans about 400, while the unaffiliated roster has grown by more than 2,000.
Many residents who were registered as Republicans or Democrats changed to unaffiliated before the May primary because they wanted to vote in the other party's election. After the primary, many did not change their registration back. This is a change that is difficult to track through the computer system.
On Oct. 1, when registration totals were last tallied, the Moore County books showed 25,431 Republicans, 18,429 Democrats, 15,138 unaffiliated and 22 Libertarians -- for a grand total of 59,020.
County election personnel have been working steadily in recent months as excitement about the general election continues to explode.
Clendenin told a candidates' forum in Seven Lakes Tuesday night that this is a "historic election" and said she too did not want anyone left out who wants to vote. For that reason she agreed to remain in the elections office in Carthage until 7 p.m. Friday to register latecomers.
Clendenin said state law does not specify the hour to close registration prior to the general election, the law just specifies a date. In most years the office's regular closing time of 5 p.m. would be the deadline, but she decided to work longer herself and provide a little leeway to stragglers.
The election is historic because a black candidate, the Democratic Obama, is running for the presidency for the first time and a Republican woman, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is running for the vice-presidency for the first time. (The first woman to run for vice-president was former Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, a Democrat, who was Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984. They lost).
Clendenin said that the pace of registrations varies from day to day.
"Some days we have a steady stream of people through here," she said. Other days we have long lulls between registrants."
Asked if this is the busiest election season in her 23 years as election director, Clendenin said it is hard to make an accurate judgment because of the diversity of changes in the election system over the years.
"I see what appears to be greater interest this year," she said.
However, for Clendenin and administrative assistant Carol Hambrick, 1988 is the year most vivid in their memories. Hambrick and Clendenin are the only elections personnel who were on the local staff in 1988, the year the first President Bush won election.
The elections office was situated in the old Sheriff's Office on Dowd Street in Carthage in 1988, and their quarters were cramped. On the morning of the registration deadline day, Clendenin had prepared a set of specific instructions to her staff with everything neatly planned.
But when 5 p.m. rolled around, voters were lined up at the small counter to register. They had to wait to register, and the staff had to work late to accommodate everyone.
In those days, everyone was required to register in person. There was no registration by mail or fax, and there was no comprehensive computer system to keep track of things. The population was smaller. Since then, innumerable changes have been made, and the elections office has been moved into more spacious quarters.
In August 1994, the county had a registration of 35,396. As the population has grown, interest in elections has increased, along with registrations. By 1998, the number was up to 43,000.
Amid the flurry of Friday visitors were two busloads of third-graders from West End School. Clendenin explained the voting process to the children with emphasis on registration, registration requirements and voting procedures.
Too young to vote Nov. 4, the third-graders were given an opportunity to try their hands at a different kind of voting. They voted on their favorite cars.
Besides walk-in registrations, the elections office is receiving registrations from several sources on a continuing basis. They're even coming by fax machine. However, Clendenin says the original copy was due in her office by the Friday night deadline.
New prospective voters are being registered at both the Republican and Democratic county headquarters and at the Barack Obama headquarters in Southern Pines and by several other groups.
A registration form is available through the elections office link on the Moore County Web site.
Avoiding Long Lines
In addition to new registrants, the elections office was a hub of activity for an information-seeking public. Many asked about one-stop early voting. One person wanted to know where information is available about candidates for nonpartisan offices, the judiciary in particular.
One-stop voting, which is just another type of absentee voting, has become so popular that two additional special polling places will be in place this time.
One-stop will again be carried out at the Moore County Agriculture Center across the street from the elections office on Pinehurst Avenue in Carthage. This early polling place will open Thursday, Oct. 16, with hours from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Then on Monday, Oct. 20, polling places will open in the Old West End Gym and at the new recreation building in Aberdeen, where hours will be from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
On the final Saturday before the election, all three will be open from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. After that, voters must wait until Tuesday, Nov. 4, to vote at the polling place in their regular precincts.
However, Clendenin is warning the public to be prepared for long lines at all polling places on Election Day. For this reason, she is recommending that voters take advantage of the early voting opportunity.
All is not lost if an interested voter has not registered by the Friday deadline. Same-day registration-voting is also available during the early voting period, but elections officials do not encourage this practice because it is a time-consuming process with ballots set aside as provisional ballots that cannot be counted until the canvass period after the election.
The Nov. 4 ballot will be long. Voters are not just selecting a president, they are also electing a new governor. Also on the ballot are statewide offices, legislative and the judiciary, along with county commissioners and members of the Board of Education.
Voters are also reminded that they must vote separately on their choice for president. This part of the ballot will be separate from the other partisan offices.
Voters choosing to vote a straight ticket for one party are advised that they must vote separately for their presidential candidate.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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