Businesses encourage customers to register to vote


An article in yesterday's Anne Arundel County edition should have said that Monday is the deadline for registering to vote in November's General Election.

The Sun regrets the error.

In the Burlington Coat Factory in Pasadena, the voice on thloudspeaker had just finished announcing the arrival of new winter coats and a special on panty hose when a new message was relayed:

"And, shoppers, don't forget to register to vote!"

The clothing store, like hundreds of other businesses in the state, is handing out voter registration cards and encouraging customers to register before the Saturday deadline.

Local and state elections officials say businesses are taking an unprecedented interest in voter registration this year, and credit their efforts with helping boost voter registration throughout the Baltimore area.

"I think this is something new. I'm not aware of businesses ever getting involved like this before," said Marvin Meyn, deputy administrator with the state's Administrative Board of Election Laws.

Traditionally, voters could register at county offices, post offices, libraries and a few banks. But this year, they can find voter registration cards at day-care centers, service stations, video rental stores, department stores, insurance agencies, restaurants and real estate agencies.

Domino's Pizza even ran afoul of federal elections laws when it offered free pizza toppings to anyone registering. Such offerings could constitute a bribe, election officials said. The national pizza chain dropped the promotion, but still made voter registration cards available in its stores.

"We thought we had a target market," Domino's spokesman Mike Jenkins said from the company's headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich. "We thought it was a good idea, because you could walk into a Domino's Pizza store and do a public service."

Ralph Seekford, manager of the Burlington Coat Factory, said he decided to promote voter registration because of the interest generated by Ross Perot's candidacy.

"The campaign at the early part of the year was exciting," he said. "I thought we'd do as much as we could to get everyone to vote.

"I think business should act as a good corporate citizen," he added. "We're part of the country, too."

Blockbuster Video stores in Baltimore County have been registering voters as well. The idea was so popular among

patrons in Owings Mills that the store gave out 500 registration forms and ran out within a week, said William Ford, the assistant manager.

"We wanted to do it as a community service," he said. "Every avenue should be explored to get people to vote."

The Maryland Restaurant Association also has promoted voter registration through its "Serve up Democracy" campaign.

About 200 restaurants throughout the state are handing out voter registration cards, said Marcia Harris, the association's executive vice president.

"It seems like a good idea," said Amy Humes, manager of the Water Street Exchange, a Baltimore restaurant participating in the campaign. "I'd like to see people get involved and make a choice."

She was among several who credited the Ross Perot campaign as sparking interest.

"You start to think about what your vote means," she said.

Voter registration is the latest effort by the association to become more politically active.

"It's something we feel pretty good about," Ms. Humes said. "The decisions are becoming too important to be made by just a handful of voters."

Nancy Crawford, administrator for the Anne Arundel Board of Supervisors of Elections, said the efforts seem to be working.

"The citizens are really doing the work. Registration is way up."

As of last count, 198,250 voters were registered in Anne Arundel, compared with 191,924 for the 1988 presidential election.

Baltimore County elections officials said they expect record numbers of voters to register this year. According to the most recent figures, 374,016 have registered -- about 20,000 more than four years ago.

"Every hospital, every church, everyone is going out in force," said Doris Suter, administrator of the Baltimore County Elections Board. "Even though we're always active, the election office is limited, and we appreciate all the help we can get."

In Baltimore City, a number of businesses have joined the effort as a result of Mayor Kurt Schmoke's appeal to businesses and organizations.

"I think everyone who has got a building housing any kind of agency has voter registration," said Barbara Jackson, administrator of the city Elections Board. "Registration is up quite a bit. I'm really pleased.

She said the city has gained 10,000 registered voters in the past two months, and expects another 10,000 will register before the Monday deadline.

Howard, Carroll and Harford counties expect voter registration to increase as well, although officials in Harford and Carroll said they have not seen businesses participating in voter registration drives.

In Carroll, 61,979 voters were registered at last count, compared with 52,006 at the end of September 1988. In Harford, 88,005 voters were registered at the end of August, compared with 75,658 in 1988. In Howard, 105,271 voters had registered as of Sept. 25, compared with 95,839 in 1988.

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