Copyright 2004 The Columbus Dispatch
Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
October 1, 2004 Friday, Home Final Edition
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 01D
LENGTH: 696 words
HEADLINE: NUMBER OF NEW VOTERS SOARING ;
Registration tops estimates of eligibility, officials say
BYLINE: Robert Vitale, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
After nine months of intense voter-registration efforts focused on Franklin County, the number of people signed up to cast ballots in the Nov. 2 election has surpassed U.S. Census estimates of those eligible.
There are about 815,000 Franklin County residents older than 18, according to the most recent census estimates, for 2003. As of yesterday, Franklin County Board of Elections officials counted more than 817,000 registered voters, and forms are still coming in at the rate of 8,000 per day as Monday's registration deadline approaches.
Although voter-registration numbers in some Ohio counties have reached 90 percent or more of population estimates, surpassing the number is highly unusual.
One county official in Ohio called the Franklin County figures "bizarre."
One state official called them troubling.
Franklin County election officials called them easily explainable.
"It's not a cause for alarm," said Board of Elections Director Matthew Damschroder. "It's not an indication of fraud."
A 1993 federal law -- often called Motor Voter -- made it easier for Americans to register to vote, including when they renew their driver's licenses. But the law also made it more difficult for elections officials to purge their lists of those who don't follow through and cast ballots.
There are 200,000 people on Franklin County's voter rolls who currently are classified as "inactive," Damschroder said, but it takes five years or more of non-voting to remove their names. No one is purged from the voter lists in federal election years, so the list won't be pared down until mid-2005.
"It's just a function of Motor Voter," Damschroder said.
But voter registration is as controversial in this election year as any issue debated by candidates, and with Ohio's standing as one of the presidential election's major battlegrounds has come scrutiny of every step in the process.
In Lake and Summit counties, a criminal investigation is under way into thousands of registration forms turned in with fake names or forged signatures. In Franklin County, dozens of falsified forms discovered in May resulted in the indictment of one voter-registration worker.
Numbers that don't jibe worry some.
"This election year, election officials must be particularly vigilant," said Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. "And individuals need to be reminded election fraud and false registration is a felony."
Damschroder, however, said double-checks started by registration-drive organizers since the May incident have virtually eliminated problems with fraudulent registrations in Franklin County. Board of Elections workers also check when processing forms.
"I don't know how much more vigilant we can be," he said.
In Cuyahoga County, registration figures from earlier this month showed 91 percent of residents 18 or older have registered to vote. In Lucas County, totals from noon yesterday show 84 percent of eligible residents have registered.
Eric Worthen, supervisor of registration for the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said he did the calculation for his county on Wednesday because he thought totals there were getting awfully close. It stood at 90 percent yesterday.
"It's pretty apparent the sheer volume has increased," he said. But of numbers surpassing eligible-voter totals, he said: "That would be a very odd occurrence. That would be bizarre."
Checks with other central Ohio boards of elections, though, show Delaware County in the same statistical boat as Franklin County. There, the census estimates 95,348 residents are older than 18. As of 3 p.m. yesterday, the Delaware County Board of Elections listed 96,509 registered voters.
Director Janet Brenneman said the county's growing population -- it has added about 7,500 residents a year since 2000 -- coupled with safeguards against purging voters account for the difference.
"We just don't drop people off the roll for nothing," she said.
Franklin County has added about 6,500 residents a year since 2000. More than 90,000 new voter registrations have been processed by the Board of Elections so far this year.
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