HANFORD — Four years ago, so many new voters were registering, Kings County elections officials had to bring in staff from other departments to handle the load.
It’s not that way this time around, despite a brand-new online registration option provided by the California Secretary of State, said Ken Baird, Kings County assessor/clerk-recorder.
“In 2008, there was an awful lot of interest in that election,” Baird said. “We just saw an awful lot of people that we don’t typically see in the political process.”
The excitement over the prospect of Barack Obama becoming the first black president in American history propelled local turnout to a near record 70 percent of registered voters in 2008.
The county received close to 8,000 new voter registration forms that year, said Rachelle Simas, elections manager. This year, there have been about 1,500 new forms turned in since the primary, she said.
It’s anybody’s guess what the turnout will be in this election. President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney are describing it as a clear choice between two different visions of America’s future, but that may not be translating into real passion at the polls.
“I just think the voters are maybe a little more complacent this year,” Baird said. “We’ll see.”
Voter registration has made national news this year. In other states, mostly swing states in the presidential contest, more than a dozen states have enacted voter ID laws, a controversial move that has pitted Democrats against Republicans whom they say are trying to suppress voter registration of likely Obama supporters. There are no voter ID laws in California.
Several celebrities, including Zac Efron, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sarah Silverman and Selena Gomez, have joined forces in recent days in the Vote4Stuff campaign to entice young voters to participate through catchy videos.
It’s not that voters don’t have lots of registration options in Kings County and statewide. The local Republican and Democratic parties are actively signing people up, operating booths at Thursday Night Market Place all the way through the last one on Sept. 27. Forms can still be picked up any public library or at the county elections office. There’s a drop box in front of the county government complex on the east side. People can also register at the local Department of Motor Vehicles office.
Just a few weeks ago, an online registration system went live for the first time at the California Secretary of State website — www.registertovote.ca.gov. Supporters say it will help more than 6 million Californians who are qualified but haven’t registered.
As of Sept. 7, 17.3 million of California’s 23.7 million eligible voters — or about 73 percent — were registered to vote.
Kings has seen a slight jump in registration since April — up from 46,930 voters in April to 47,563 voters as of Wednesday. That’s an increase of 633. But the most recent state report shows only 60 percent of those eligible have registered.
Republicans have a distinct advantage, with 21,802 registered voters compared to 17,034 for the Democrats. In fact, Kings County ranks sixth in the state among counties with the highest percentage of Republican voters.
Both parties continue to register people, though none are planning specific registration sites in the next month.
It’s more along the lines of carrying registration forms in your car and signing people up on an individual basis when you can, said Prudence Eiland, Kings County Republican Central Committee member.
“We registered a few people, probably not as many as in 2008, but we still registered a good number,” said Josh Golden, Kings County field director for Rudy Salas, a Democrat running for state Assembly in Kings County.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or snidever@HanfordSentinel.com.