DECISION 2004: PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
ALREADY MAKING A DIFFERENCE
COUNTY ELECTION BUREAU COULD SEE AS MANY AT 15,000 NEW VOTER SIGN-UPS, DIRECTOR SAYS.
By JON FOX firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 Page: 1A
WILKES-BARRE – Standing behind a mound of completed voter registration forms, Leonard Piazza, director of the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections, weathered a last-minute storm with a smile.
It was, after all, exciting. “I think we’re probably making some history here,” Piazza said.
Flooded with a wave of residents rushing to register under Monday’s deadline, Piazza says the office could tally as many as 15,000 new voters for the year and push new registration in the county to an all-time high.
“All of these people came in here today,” Piazza said, touching the growing heap of forms piled on a counter. He estimated 2,000 had passed through the glass doors at the Bureau of Elections to fill out and hand in registrations.
“If we’ve ever done close to this kind of activity, I think you’d probably have to go back to 1960 when Kennedy ran.”
The first Luzerne County resident was waiting outside the locked doors of the office at 9 a.m. and last-minute procrastinators were still creeping in as the clock closed in on 4:30 p.m.
Applications postmarked on Monday will also be accepted by the bureau.
From a starting mark of about 198,000 registered voters at the debut of the year, more than 10,000 new registrations have been processed by staff at the bureau.
“As of this weekend, we broke through the 10,000 new voters milestone,” Piazza said.
The pile of new registrations and crates of mailed applications delivered to the office will likely push that number of new voters as high as 15,000, Piazza said.
Monday, the final day to register in Pennsylvania, saw a mix of young and old flowing into the bureau. “I’m very excited to see people who have never registered, never voted,” Piazza said.
“We’re about one-sixth of what Philadelphia is doing,” he said. “That’s remarkable.”
Philadelphia has clocked the highest number of new voter registrations in 21 years, according to The New York Times.
“The whole state is pretty much overwhelmed,” Piazza said.
Al Gore won Pennsylvania by 204,840 votes in 2000, and this year all indications point to a closely contested race. A Quinnipiac Polling Institute poll taken at the end of September had Kerry leading with 46 percent of likely voters to 44 percent for Bush. A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll also conducted at the end of September had Bush leading with 49 percent of likely voters to 46 percent for Kerry.
So far, new Democratic Luzerne County registrations have outnumbered Republican applications by a factor of two to one, Piazza said.
Busy but managing the sudden uptick in registrations with its six employees, Piazza said the office will do whatever it takes to enter all the forms into the bureau’s computerized system and get registration cards out to voters in about three and a half weeks.
Kristine Marcinkowski, a 34-year-old Hunlock Creek resident, was registering to vote for the first time. With two young children she feels compelled to vote in this election.
“I feel my vote counts now,” she said. “For their future I need to vote.”
Stanley Czapracki, 59, of Nanticoke, came in with his wife, Sandra. He was already registered, but his wife was getting in just under the wire. Both felt this year’s election has assumed a great deal of importance.
“There’s a lot of issues to consider between the two candidates,” he said, adding that he plans to watch the two remaining presidential debates closely.
“I think it’s important because there’s a war going,” Sandra Czapracki said.
Kristen Dopko and Corinne Chonko, both 19, had come straight after their jobs in Plymouth. Both registered to vote for the first time Monday.
This year’s election is “the most important since we’ve been alive,” Dopko said.