DURHAM, N.C. -- Voter excitement, always up before a presidential election, is pushing registration through the roof this year, with more than 3.5 million people rushing to join in the balloting, according to an AP survey that offers the first national snapshot.
Figures are up for blacks, women and young people. Rural and city. South and North.
Overall, the AP found that more than one in 66 adults signed up to vote in the first three months of the year. In the 20 states that were able to provide comparable data, new registrations have soared about 65 percent from the same three months in the 2004 campaign.
Voters are flocking to the most open election in half a century, inspired to support the first female president, the first black or the oldest ever elected.
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Also, the bruising Democratic race has lasted longer than expected, creating a burst of interest in states typically ignored in an election year.
Registration numbers are up in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, but not as dramatically as the rest of the nation, according to the California secretary of state's office.
In Stanislaus County, for instance, registration is up 8,544 from Jan. 22 to now, according to Stanislaus County Clerk Lee Lundrigan. Registration now totals 217,756, she said.
"I don't exactly call that skyrocketing going into a primary election," she said.
San Joaquin County showed a similar pattern, gaining 6,364 voters since Jan. 22. In Merced County, 1,588 new voters have registered since Jan. 22.
"Ours have been kind of flat," said Deanna Brown, Merced County's deputy registrar of voters.
Democrats were significantly outnumbering Republicans among the new registrants in the valley counties.
Some Democratic Party leaders bemoan the long battle, with two strong candidates continuing to undercut each other. But there are clear signs that the registration boom is favoring their party, at least for now.
"This could change the face of American politics for decades to come," said Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. Republicans, concerned at least somewhat for 2008, say these surges come and go over the long term.
While detailed data are available from only a handful of states, registration seems to be up particularly strongly for blacks and women.
Among the new voters in North Carolina is Shy Ector, 25, of Durham. She favored Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry while a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill four years ago, but never took the time to register to vote. Barack Obama's candidacy was enough to make sure she did this year, she said.
"I was like, 'Oh, now this is a reason to vote. This is different,' " Ector said.
No guarantee they will vote
New voters are generally less reliable. So there's no guarantee this year's newcomers will stick around in years to come or even cast ballots in November if their candidate doesn't make it.
Even if some discouraged new voters drop off, the numbers are striking. Consider Pennsylvania and North Carolina, where the primaries hadn't been expected to matter because they occurred so late.
New registrations favored Democrats in North Carolina, which holds its primary today. In the first three months of the year, the number of new Democratic registrants nearly tripled -- to 74,590 -- from those during the same period of 2004. New Republican registrations were up, too, but they doubled.
More than 49,558 unaffiliated voters signed up in the Tar Heel state, compared with 16,858 in the first three months of 2004.
The Democratic primary was the obvious draw, with 85 percent of unaffiliated voters who cast early ballots doing so on that ticket.
Cherie Poucher, director of elections in Wake County, home of the state capital of Raleigh, said registrations among the parties historically have kept pace with each other until this year. In the two weeks before the April 11 registration deadline, she said, the Democrats gained about 8,000 voters in Wake County while the GOP lost several hundred.
In Pennsylvania, where Clinton's victory in the April 22 primary kept her campaign alive, there were 40,000 more Republicans than Democrats in Bucks County in April 2004.
Among the new registrants in the first three months of this year, 6,537 signed up as Democrats while 2,200 did so as members of the GOP in the county north of Philadelphia. And 12,554 filed applications to switch to the Democratic Party. By the beginning of April, Bucks had become a Democratic county by a margin of nearly 4,000 registered voters.
John Cordisco, the county's Democratic chairman, said party leaders had set a goal of turning the county blue by 2011. Then came the extended pri-mary battle that gave Pennsylvania an important role.
The overall figures on new registrations were compiled by the AP in a survey of election officials nationwide. Eight states and the District of Columbia were unable to provide statistics, meaning the number of voters who registered from roughly Jan. 1 to March 31 almost certainly exceeds 3.5 million. One of the eight, North Dakota, does not require voters to register.
In the 20 states that were able to provide comparable figures from the first three months of 2004, only Iowa showed a decline.
That state held its first-in-the-nation caucuses Jan. 3.
Inroads in GOP strongholds
The numbers even seem to be benefiting Democrats in states that generally lean Republican. In Wyoming, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 2-1, Democratic registrations in the first three months of the year surpassed those for the GOP. Ditto in West Virginia, Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina, all won by President Bush in 2004. There could be more. Only 10 states had figures on new voter registrations by party.
Four states provided information about the race of registrants in 2004 and 2008: Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana and North Carolina. In each, there was a surge in the registration of black voters. In North Carolina, more than 45,000 blacks signed up to vote in the first three months of 2008, compared with 11,000 in the first three months of 2004.
There was a fourfold rise in black voter registrations in Alabama, while Louisiana and Tennessee saw increases of 64 percent and 17 percent.
Six states collected voter data by gender in 2004 and 2008, and the new-registration rate among women, who largely have backed Clinton, is up 89 percent in those states, compared with 74 percent for men.
Not all of the registrants are new to politics. A newly registered voter might be one who has moved to a new state. But the onslaught of registrations has overwhelmed election organizers.
Bee staff writer Tim Moran contributed to this report.