Time to register is running out for would-be voters

Polls show the race between President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry is neck and neck, and New Hampshire is a battleground state that may be key to deciding the election.

And people all over Greater Nashua are beating a path to make Saturday’s deadline to register to vote.

“You are putting in your two cents,” said Nashua resident Dan Boisvert, 36, an electrician, after he registered to vote at Nashua’s City Hall. He moved to the city from Derry.

Donna King moved recently from Hudson to Nashua and didn’t want to wait until Election Day to register, to ensure there are no missteps when she shows up at the polls.

“I think it’s an important election. They really need to get the vote out,” said King, 57.

Other communities are seeing the same turnout as Nashua: a lot of eager voters.

“There’s always a line down the hall,” said Cecile Nichols, the town clerk in Hudson.

In Merrimack, the supervisors of the checklist have actually come in during the day to help deal with the heavy flow of people, said Town Clerk Diane Pollock Trippett.

“We are seeing a range of everybody,” she said.

As a sign of voter interest, Trippett said nearly 900 absentee ballots have been requested so far this fall. Four years ago, the number was around 800, said Trippett, who has been the clerk for nine years.

Today and Saturday are the final days to register to vote before the Nov. 2 election. After Saturday, voters can still register at the polls on Election Day.

The law requires that checklist supervisors accept new voters for at least a half-hour starting at 11 a.m. Saturday. The actual hours vary from community to community, so people should call their local clerk’s office or check town or city Web sites for specific information.

As clerks look warily toward Election Day, they are encouraging people to register ahead of time to avoid lengthy waits at the polls.

Trippett said people risk being stuck in long lines before ever casting a ballot.

In 2000, some 4,000 people in Nashua registered to vote on Election Day, and that rush of new voters caused problems, said City Clerk Paul Bergeron. This year, if trends continue, the numbers will be even higher, he said.

“That’s going to cause a logjam,” he warned.

To help the situation, three registrars will be at each of the Nashua polling places on Election Day, up from the normal two, Bergeron said.

The line to register at Nashua City Hall often runs out the door of the clerk’s office, with a steady flow of people. Bergeron said there might be an occasional pause in the line, and “then it’s like a bus unloads.”

On Monday, the office’s voicemail system held 441 messages, largely on voting-related questions, he said.

The number of registered voters in Nashua has increased nearly 11 percent since last December, just before the Democratic presidential primary.

As of Wednesday, some 44,501 people were registered to vote in the city, according to the city clerk’s office. Last December, there were 40,111 registered.

The number of undeclared voters has increased by 17 percent during that time, and there has been a 12 percent increase in the number of Democrats and a 2 percent increase in the Republican ranks.

Nichols, the Hudson town clerk since 1986, said the registration rush tells her that turnout will be very high on Election Day. She predicted a turnout of about 70 percent.

Nichols said most of the new voters are first-timers and young people excited about casting a ballot in the election.