Elections officials: registration skyrockets

SMITH COUNTY (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - Election Administrator Karen Nelson is on the phone with a Smith County voter trying to sort out their registration status Tuesday, the final day to register to vote.

Four other Election Office employees are on other lines or helping residents in person. Other lines are ringing as Mrs. Nelson explains the voter's options and switches to another line.

"It's been like this for weeks," she said before addressing another voter's question.

More than 4,300 voters have registered since the July primary.

The November election is producing unprecedented attention from voters, even compared to 2008 when Democrats boosted typical participation numbers during the party's presidential primary and on Election Day.

Republicans dominated the turnout that year but overall participation was up.

There has been a major push by Republican and Democratic officials and activists to register like-minded residents.

A typical year draws around 20 deputy registrars, people who are eligible to register voters. But this year, Mrs. Nelson said more than 100 registrars are active. Deputy registrars do not have to affiliate with a party, she said.

The office is seeing an especially strong drive to bring out minority voters, Mrs. Nelson said.

County Commissioner JoAnn Hampton, a Democrat, said there is a push to get people to the polls. Participation in the process is paramount, she said.

"Everyone has a voice and needs to exercise their right to vote," she said. "So we want to get as many people registered as possible."

Commissioner Hampton helped organize voter registration drives with local churches and community organizations. Local Republicans are doing the same.

Mrs. Nelson said most people registering are interested in the presidential election, but local option alcohol petitions to legalize beer and wine sales in Tyler and Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 have drummed up interest as well.

"There's really not too much of interest in locally because there's no big contest except for the alcohol propositions," she said. "That has some people motivated."

Staff also has been busy processing mail-in ballot forms requested by Smith County voters. Voters 65 and older, those with disabilities and those who will not be in the county on Election day are eligible for mail-in ballots.

Mrs. Nelson said mail-in ballot requests usually pick up after early voting (Oct. 22-Nov. 2) begins. This year however, requests began flooding in earlier than usual, she said.

Secretary of State spokesman Richard Parsons said the state does not have a final tally of voter registration applications, but counties across the state are reporting large numbers of applications.

"Just here at the Secretary of State's Office, we estimate our office is receiving more than 1,000 voter registration applications each day," he said.

"Traditionally, in high-profile election years like this one it is not uncommon to see a big increase in the number of registration applications come in as we near the registration deadline."


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