Buoyed by a sharp increase in voter registration over the past month, election officials say Maryland voters appear ready to turn out in strong -- and possibly record -- numbers on Nov. 3.
The voter registration books closed last night for the upcoming election. While the precise registration figures are still being compiled, officials are predicting sharp increases in new registrations -- which they say is a sure sign of a big turnout.
"There has been a tremendous surge in voter registration in the past month," said Gene M. Raynor, administrator of the state election board. "From all indications -- indications being calls, distribution of voter registration forms, and new registrants -- there will be a tremendous turnout. We could set a record."
State elections officials say the largest turnout of registered voters in a presidential year in Maryland occurred in 1952, when 83.5 percent of the registered voters cast bal- lots.
Mr. Raynor predicted that the number of registered voters in Maryland will be well over 2.3 million by the time all the new registrants are counted. In 1988, 2.31 million voters were registered in the state, and 76 percent turned out at the polls, Mr. Raynor said.
"I believe we're going to top all previous registrations this year," Mr. Raynor said.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke also predicted a strong Election Day turnout yesterday, as he pulled a red wagon into the city Election Board office. The wagon was filled with the final few thousand completed voter registration forms gathered as part of a city voter registration effort.
"There are a lot of people hurting," Mr. Schmoke said in explaining the success of the campaign. "They want to make a change. They feel they can have an impact by registering to vote."
Mr. Schmoke, who is a strong backer of Gov. Bill Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, said that the city's voter registration effort has produced about 30,000 new registered voters in the past two months. Most of the new registrants are Democrats, who outnumber Republicans in Baltimore by about 9-1. Statewide, Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 2-1.
Mr. Schmoke vowed that his political workers and others -- including members of civic and other political groups -- will go "door-to-door and block-by-block" to generate a strong turnout on Election Day.
The voter registration effort was an attempt to recover some of the approximately 119,000 names purged from the city's voter rolls since 1984. Most of those were removed for failure to vote in any election for five consecutive years.
In 1984, the city had 424,744 registered voters -- a high water mark for many years. By late last summer, the total had fallen to 305,000, said Barbara E. Jackson, the city's election board administrator.
She estimated that with the new registrants, the city's voter rolls will rise to about 340,000. A final pre-election tally will be available in a couple of weeks, she said.
Even if the number of new registrants swells the voting rolls to 340,000 as Ms. Jackson predicts, the total still will be less than the 368,000 people who were eligible to vote in the 1988 election. That year about 60 percent of the city's registered voters turned out to vote.
In Prince George's County, officials say that new voters were registering at a rate of 1,000 per day for the past month. The result is a new record for voter registration in the county: 310,000.
The outpouring of new registrants is being fueled by the presidential showdown between Mr. Clinton and President Bush and the state's abortion referendum, elections officials said.