Whatcom County voter registrations have surged over the past several months in advance of the Nov. 6 mid-term election.
“It’s crazy this year,” Whatcom County Auditor’s Office Elections Supervisor Amy Grasher said in an interview with The Bellingham Herald this week.
Grasher said that 3,973 new voter registrations have been received since Aug. 1, which was just before the state primary election.
However, total voter registration for the county, which was 140,645 on Wednesday, didn’t grow much from Aug. 30, when the number was 140,622, she said. The surge was partially offset by an August purge of some 2,000 voters.
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Voters removed from the rolls were those whose Aug. 7 primary ballots were returned as undeliverable, meaning they didn’t live at the address where they were registered.
A deadline looms Monday because that’s the last day for in-person, mail-in and online registrations or address changes.
After Monday, registration will be limited to in-person applications for new Washington state voters until registration closes Oct. 29.
Ballots will be mailed to voters statewide Oct. 19.
Grasher said some of this year’s surge in registrations might be people who applied for a voter ID card because they were seeking another form of identification for an enhanced driver’s license.
“Starting in June, I noticed lots more traffic coming into our office because they want to get state ID,” Grasher said.
But she said the three local colleges and other citizen groups have stepped up their registration efforts this election cycle.
Joy Monjure with the nonprofit League of Women Voters, whose Bellingham/Whatcom County chapter is the state’s second-largest, said in an interview that the group is focusing on voters between the ages of 18 and 35, among others.
“We wanted to do something to target the people least likely to vote,” Monjure said.
“We really pulled out all the stops. We’ve got a huge effort going on in the high schools,” Monjure said, explaining that state law allows 17-year-olds to register ahead of their 18th birthday.
Students for Action, the Bellingham high school students who organized rallies against gun violence in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, has been registering students too, said Squalicum junior Maggie Davis-Bower via Instagram.
Monjure said the League of Women Voters is also getting residents in assisted living facilities to change their addresses.
Members of the Riveters Collective PAC have provided information about how to register while canvassing for candidates and the immigrant-rights group Indivisible Bellingham has registered voters at special events, their representatives said via social media and by email.
State Sen. Doug Ericksen, who represents the 42nd District of north Bellingham and northern Whatcom County, said in an interview that he and his campaign volunteers check to see if voters are registered as they canvass homes in his legislative district.
“It’s what we’ve been doing for years and years — it’s an important thing to do,” Ericksen said.
Local musician Robert Sarazin Blake assembled volunteers to work voter registration tables Friday and Saturday at more than a dozen local bars and similar venues — including Wild Buffalo, Shakedown, Boundary Bay Brewery, the Firefly Lounge, Sylvia Arts Center and Kamboucha Town.
“I know a lot of people who don’t vote — their voice is not heard,” Blake said in an interview this week. “Any citizen can register a person to vote. We’re just trying to make it easy on people.”
He has noticed excitement among voters for the midterm races, which affect 435 U.S. House seats and about one-third of the U.S. Senate.
Control of Congress is at stake, along with several state legislatures and many statehouses.
Registration efforts across the U.S. are focusing on young voters, a demographic that traditionally has the lowest election turnout, CNN and others have reported.
In Whatcom County, those age 18-24 voted at a rate of 19 percent in the November 2005 election, an off year for president and Congress, according to records from the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office.
Turnout for that group jumped to 52 percent three years later in November 2008, when Barack Obama and John McCain were running for president.
By November 2016, when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were on the ballot, turnout among the youngest voter demographic was 71 percent.
Nationwide, Americans age 18 to 29 voted at a rate of 46 percent in 2016, according to Census Bureau records, which have slightly different age groupings.
Whatcom County voters aged 25 to 34 voted at a rate of 33 percent in 2005 and 72 percent in 2016.
Local voters aged 35 to 44 voted at a rate of 48 percent in 2005 and 80 percent in 2016.
Americans aged 30 to 44 voted at a nationwide rate of 59 percent in 2016.
“People are fired up,” musician Blake said. “Our vision is that we want people to vote. I know a lot of people who don’t vote — for a variety of reasons. I want to reach out to the community to make it easier for them to be registered.”
“At some places we’ll have laptops so people can log in and register online.”
“The reaction to our work has been phenomenal,” Monjure said of the league’s registration efforts.
Even so, she’s still disappointed when people refuse to register, saying that they aren’t interested in voting.
“That’s absolutely the hardest thing for me to hear,” she said. “Politics affect every part of their lives. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.”