Barely a trickle of people were showing up to vote today as most Marylanders greeted the 1990 primary elections with a yawn.
Today's voting may test the power of incumbency, the clout of political action committees and the fervor of the abortion issue in some races. It will certainly gauge the indifference of voters.
Diane Shelton, a worker at the polls at the Enoch Pratt Library downtown, said just after noon, "We've only had 40 people all day. At lunchtime it actually got slower."
At the fire station at 1312 Guilford Ave., three poll workers watched firefighters as they ate their lunch and watched soap operas.
"We've had about 21 people so far. Only two showed up at lunchtime," said Valerie Elmansouri. "We're hoping that it picks up later this evening."
In Baltimore County, elections administrator Doris Souter looked at inquiries from voters and requests for absentee ballots and was moved to predict a 29 percent voter turnout today, which would be the lowest on record in the county.
"I hope I'm wrong," she said. But her prediction hadn't changed by this afternoon.
Turnout typically swells at lunchtime and in the evening. Polls remain open until 8 p.m.
Voters who chose to cast ballots today were selecting Republican and Democratic candidates for all 188 seats in the Maryland General Assembly and eight seats in Congress as well as for governor, attorney general and comptroller.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whose predicted wide margin of victory is blamed by some for dampening voter turnout, said he noticed unusually short lines when he voted.
"I like to think people are satisfied," Schaefer said.
Voters also were deciding a host of local races -- including campaigns for county executive, county council, Circuit Court judgeships, courthouse posts and party central committees.
Today's primaries will go a long way toward determining the makeup of the Maryland Senate and, with that, the future of abortion legislation in the state. Abortion-rights advocates will declare the election a success if they can pick up a net gain of one seat in the 47-member Senate, giving them enough votes to stop any future anti-abortion filibusters.
Despite the large number of races, political observers had predicted a small turnout, due mainly to a lack of dramatic contests at the top of the tickets as well as a drop in registrations.
"I predict a 35 percent turnout statewide," said Gene M. Raynor, head of the state elections board. "I base that on the amount of inactivity I have seen, everywhere."
The average primary in a non-presidential election produces a 45 percent turnout, Raynor said.
Early turnout seemed to fulfill his predictions, as some city poll workers passed their time knitting.
Marvin Cheatham, president of the city's board of elections, said the turnout could be "one of the lowest ever."
By midday, barely 5 percent of the city's registered voters had cast ballots, and Cheatham said turnout might not top 30 percent for the day, far below the previous record low of 38 percent. "It's sad," he said.
Precinct workers in Roland Park described turnout there in various shades of slow -- moderately, very and really.
Bored workers and police outnumbered voters at many polling places.
At Chase House, 1027 Cathedral St., the polling place for Precinct 7, Ward 11, poll worker Renee Terry sat reading a mystery novel at lunchtime. "This is just the kind of day it's been," she said.
"It's quite disappointing," said Minnie Shorter, chief Republican judge in the 4th Precinct, 9th Ward at Venable Senior High on 34th Street. "We're used to seeing lines of people when we come in, and this morning we only had one person. It makes for a long day."
Schools were closed today in most of the state, including all of the Baltimore area.
Raynor said he expected larger turnouts in Harford, Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties, where there were hotly contested primaries for county executive.
Elections officials in Arundel were expecting 40 percent to 45 percent of the eligible voters to cast ballots.
In all, 561 candidates were on the ballot statewide, Raynor said, down about 20 percent from 1986.
Perhaps the most closely watched race was the battle for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1st District, which covers the Eastern Shore, Southern Maryland and part of Harford County.
Rep. Roy P. Dyson, seeking a sixth term, was being challenged in the Democratic primary by three candidates, including Del. Barbara O. Kreamer, D-Harford. Eight candidates were battling for the Republican nomination.
Republicans had put Dyson on their list of vulnerable Democratic incumbents because of a series of controversies. The latest came two weeks ago, when Dyson, who is strongly pro-military on Capitol Hill, disclosed that he was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.
A handful of competitive races for the Maryland Senate had been viewed as possibly drawing larger numbers to the polls.
At the top of the ticket, Schaefer was seeking the Democratic nomination for a second term, challenged by Frederick M. Griisser Jr., a real estate agent from Anne Arundel County who waged an almost invisible campaign.
The Republican contest for governor matched former foreign service officer William S. Shepard, of Montgomery County, against Ross Z. Pierpont, a retired Baltimore surgeon. Shepard made the biggest news of the campaign by naming his wife, Lois, as his running mate.