WILKES-BARRE – When Acting Luzerne County Bureau of Elections Director Marisa Crispell-Barber arrived at the county election office Tuesday morning, there were already three people waiting to register. That was 30 minutes before the office opened. Those three, and at least 100 others, were part of a steady stream of people shuffling into the office throughout the day to make sure their votes count next month.
Tuesday was the final day to register to vote in Pennsylvania and be eligible to cast a ballot for in the Nov. 6 general election. For Crispell-Barber, who spent the prior15 years in Wyoming County's election office, it will go down as "the most hectic last day to register to vote in my 16 years."
Crispell-Barber could not provide final voter registration numbers because there were still more than 1,300 applications waiting to be entered into the system on Tuesday and more registrations will arrive in the mail over the next few days. But the figures she was able to provide show a 2 percent increase in registered voters since the April primary election.
Those totals showed 193,191 people on the voter rolls, an increase of nearly 4,000 since the April 24 primary, when 189,344 county residents were registered. At the time of the last congressional election, in November 2010, the county had 187,867 registered voters.
While Luzerne County is seeing a surge in registered voters, the state is seeing the opposite.
As of Monday, the Pennsylvania Department of State reported 8,414,764 registered voters, a decrease of 3.9 percent compared with 8,755,588 registered voters before the November 2008 general election.
Ron Ruman, a department spokesman, couldn't say for sure what led to the drop but said 2008 was an "aberration" as high interest in the race between Barack Obama and John McCain, coupled with a heated primary election season that included Hillary Rodham Clinton, drove voter registration totals up.
That same excitement, Ruman said, "is just not happening this year."
"This is really more typical for a presidential election year," Ruman said of the registration trends.
But Crispell-Barber and the county office staff of six said this year's final day to register seemed more active than 2008.
Democrats increased their numbers in the county by 1,480, solidifying their lead with 110,622 registrations. Unaffiliated or third party registration increased by 1,161 to 18,862. Republicans also gained, though not as much, increasing the party's numbers by 1,140 new members to 63,707.
While Tuesday was the deadline to register to vote, those requesting an absentee ballot have until Oct. 30.
Confusion over the controversial Voter ID law hasn't been much of an issue at the election office, Crispell-Barber said, though she noted a Commonwealth Court ruling issued last week did not address the law's provision related to absentee ballots, which require a voter casting such a ballot to include a driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on the ballot.
Crispell-Barber said that due to privacy concerns she is recommending people place their ballots in a sealable envelope and mail it to the address on the ballot.
Ruman said the law requiring any voter showing up at a polling place where he or she hasn't voted previously to show some form of ID remains. While a photo ID in these cases isn't required, it is acceptable, as is a utility bill or other paper showing both a name and address.
Luzerne County: 193,191
Lackawanna County: 148,787
Schuylkill County: 85,927
Columbia County: 39,637
Wyoming County: 17,220
Sullivan County: 4,242
* Latest available totals