Washington breaks voter registration record

Washington has just set a new record for voter registrations, topping the 3.5 million figure set in the hotly competitive 2004 election year.

The latest number, reported by the Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s Office on Oct. 7, is 3,515,393. The tally is expected to grow each day as crews process registration applications that were submitted by the major deadline Oct. 4.

The old record was 3,514,078, and that number was later trimmed back significantly to remove duplicate registrations, felons and deceased voters. During the past three years, about 160,000 of these voters were removed from the rolls. Others were moved to inactive status because their ballots were returned to the counties as undeliverable or because the person didn’t vote in the past two federal elections. The registrations can be restored to active status.

“We couldn’t be happier that so many Washington citizens are stepping up to the privilege and responsibility of voting,” Secretary of State Sam Reed said in a press release. “Now we are hoping that voters will also participate in record-breaking numbers.”

Reed has not announced his prediction of turnout. The 2004 turnout was 82.23 percent, which was just below the 1960 turnout of 82.35 percent and the 1992 participation of 82.6. The state Elections Division is now surveying the 39 counties to solicit their predictions.

General Election ballots began being mailed this week. Most voters now vote by mail — 95 percent of the August primary ballots were cast by mail, with 37 of the 39 counties now voting entirely this way. Populous King County plans to switch next year, leaving Pierce County as the lone county with poll-site voting. Even in Pierce and King, most voters use mail-in ballots.

More than 280,000 new registrations have been added to the rolls in 2008, including a surge of more than 70,000 since mid-September. The surge is common once every four years as voters are drawn by presidential, gubernatorial and other statewide races and issues.

Oct. 4 was the major registration deadline, the one allowing online and mail-in registrations and permitting voters to update their addresses or name-changes. County auditors and the state Elections Division are still processing those applications, so the new record number of voters will continue to climb.

Further, the state allows brand new Washington voters to go in-person to the county elections office as late as Oct. 20 and still qualify for the General Election. The state has no estimate how many new voters will sign up this way.

“It’s safe to say that Washington state now has more registered voters than at any time in its history,” state Elections Director Nick Handy said in a press release. “We’ve had to bring in extra help to manage the flood of registrations and the counties are buried too.”

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