Charlottesville voter rolls skyrocket
No one doubts that voter turnout will be high in the upcoming high-stakes presidential election, but in Charlottesville, voters are poised to smash records.
Put it this way: in the 2004 presidential election, Charlottesville had 21,000 registered voters. Yesterday morning, there were 27,595 registered voters in city limits–- an increase of more than 30 percent–- and according to Charlottesville City Registrar Sheri Iachetta, there are about 1,300 applications left to process.
"We expect to top 28,000," says Iachetta, who calls the increase "unbelievable," even more so because she estimates there are only 36,000 residents over age 18, including felons and non-citizens. That number, she says, is based on the 2000 census, and the Charlottesville population has remained relatively stable.
Albemarle has also seen an unusual rise in voter registrations, says County Registrar Jake Washburne, even relative to growth. In the 2004 presidential election, the County had 58,479 registered voters in an adult population of about 70,000 (the most recent census estimate in 2005 put the County's over-18 population at 70,642). Currently, says Washburne, the county has 66,305 registered voters, and he expects "we'll probably get close to 67,000."
To what– or to whom– are these leaps due? As anyone who visited a convenience store in recent days may have noticed, the Barack Obama campaign has aggressively signed up new voters. According to Kristin Szakos, the campaign didn't keep track of how many applications they processed, but one volunteer said yesterday that she'd taken 17 applications in just two days.
The McCain campaign hasn't been quite so active in voter registration tactics, says the chairman of the Albemarle County GOP, Christian Schoenewald. The McCain/Palin campaign opened a "victory office" in September in the Republican headquarters on Seminole Trail and has made registration applications available, but Schoenewald says they are using a "targeted" method of signing up voters.
"Democrats take a shotgun approach," says Schoenewald in a metaphor sure to please lovers of the Second Amendment. "Republicans take a rifle approach."
The next challenge for the two campaigns: voter turnout. While the Obama campaign is aggressively seeking people to offer rides to the disadvantaged, Republicans are focusing on reminding the base through direct mailings and some canvassing of the need to vote.
"There's interest in both sides this year, so it's hard to predict," says Schoenewald. "We could see 80 percent voter turnout."
That percentage could be even higher in Charlottesville, says Iachetta, who thinks it will reach 85 percent– particularly after a challenge issued by Mayor Dave Norris at last night's City Council meeting: to make Charlottesville the highest-voter-turnout locality in the state. The City is making all City bus rides free that day.