by BRITTANY WILMES & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he last time Sandra Hidy voted in an election, the year was 1984 and Ronald Reagan trounced Walter Mondale. She never voted again, but this year she just can't resist.
"[Back] then, I wondered if my vote counted. This election is important," she says. "I don't want to see a certain party get in. When Obama speaks, he holds my attention." Hidy is one of the many new Washington voters rushing to register before time runs out.
The deadline to update information or to register by mail or online in Washington was Oct. 4, but brand-new voters can register at several sites in Spokane County until Monday, Oct. 20. (In Idaho, new voters can register at the polls on Election Day.)
"Washington has some pretty hot races going right now that seem controversial or like they are going to be drama-filled," Kristine Reeves, chair of Spokane County Democrats, says. "It's said that the governor's race is going to be the closest in the nation. The campaigns are really revved up."
Last week, Washington set a new record with 3,515,393 registered voters, according to the state Elections Division. Totals for Spokane County came to 253,500 on Oct. 9, says Spokane County Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin, who estimates that another 2,000 voters might register in time for November. The number of new registrations in the county is down from 2004, while the total number of voters is up.
For many locals, the election hype is bigger than ever. "This is the most important election of my life," says Linda Sadler, a Spokane native. She came to the Elections Office with her 18-year-old son, Cody, who registered last Friday.
Cody grinned at his mom and sister after finishing the form. "He gets cookies now. I promised him," Sadler says, slightly embarrassed. "He would have registered anyway."
"Eventually," Cody admits.
He's among the many young voters in the county who have registered in recent weeks. Since Sept. 16, 1,955 voters between the ages of 18 and 24 have registered in Spokane County -- 43 percent of those younger than 20.
"Young people are making a point of talking amongst themselves about it, and that speaks to me," Sadler says. "Even the very young ones realize that we're in a serious situation, and they're probably the only ones who can change it."
She hopes that those young voters will look beyond the negative ads and look at what the candidates really believe. Sadler supports Obama's message of change and says that she is disappointed in McCain. "I held him in real esteem, and he has turned this race into a mud-slinging mess," she says.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n Washington, college students can register to vote locally if they've lived in the state for 30 days. "Most students aren't local, but they're excited about the presidential race," says Curt Fackler, chair of Spokane County Republicans. He says that the Young Republicans club at Gonzaga University has registered about 300 students this semester, after realizing students don't have to be permanent residents to participate. "We're going to make an effort to get the college students registered to vote. They can do it here."
Spokane County Republicans held voter registration events at the Spokane Interstate Fair and Pig Out in the Park, where Fackler says about 200 new voters registered. He adds that although local organizations and activists have driven up registration rolls, he doesn't see much Republican enthusiasm for the national race. "I think the Democrats are more excited because Obama is bringing a lot of excitement. There are a lot of Republicans that aren't that excited about McCain. It will be interesting to see if our turnout will be higher."
Regardless, local organizers with both parties are busy, with ballots expected to arrive in mailboxes later this week. The local Republican tactic is visual presence, Fackler says: Organizers will drop bags stuffed with brochures on doorsteps and post signs across the city. Fackler says that volunteers will be positioned at key high-traffic areas downtown, waving signs to remind voters.
The local Democratic organization has turned its attention from registration to getting out the vote, Reeves says. Mail-in ballots will make a difference in the voting process, she says, and it's important that people understand the process. "Mail-in ballots give people an opportunity to really sit down at their kitchen table and think about it versus trying to know and then heading in to vote. It really helps," Reeves says.
She adds that the state's updated registration database has helped clarify where voters live and where they're registered. In one Spokane precinct, about 25 people were registered two years ago. "Now it's more like 25 people who aren't registered. People have really gotten engaged."
People are beginning to understand the weight and importance of voting, says Reeves. "I think people are getting the bigger picture. It's not just the presidential race. It runs all the way down the ticket."
With her newly registered son at her side, Sadler agreed. "If I can hound every member of voting age in my family to do their duty, we will make a difference. Every vote counts."