Poll Workers Find Peace With A Low Voter Turnout

September 12, 1990|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff writer

If you needed a quiet place to relax yesterday, one of the county's 68 election polling precincts would have filled the bill quite nicely.

By 3 p.m., with half the precincts reporting, only 8 percent of the county's registered voters had turned out to select their party's candidates in the statewide primary election.

Bored election workers sat idle in churches and schools for much of the day and candidates stood out in the hot sun eagerly shaking the few hands they could get a hold of.

"It's kind of a ho-hum election," said Tom Hatheway after voting at Longfellow Elementary School.

"It's a mandate for apathy," said Arthur Reynolds, a Republican candidate in the 13-B House of Delegates race.

Board of elections chief clerk Barbara Feaga projected the day's final voter turnout would be 25 percent, well below the 36 percent showing of four years ago.

"I think a lot of incumbent candidates are running," said Feaga, trying to explain the low turnout.

Since the last primary in 1986, the number of registered county voters has grown from 79,261 to 92,801.

As of late yesterday afternoon, Feaga said that precinct captains had reported no problems to the board of elections.

"It's a light turnout, anything can happen," said Republican county executive primary candidate Charles Ecker, during a campaign stop at Ellicott City Middle School.

"I would have loved to have seen 75 percent of the people come out, win or lose," he said.

Ecker and opponent Gilbert E. South ran a spirited campaign. County council incumbents Shane Pendergrass and Charles Feaga faced primary challenges from William Smith and John W. Taylor.

Yet, it wasn't concern about a specific local race that seemed to motivate most voters to make a trip to the polls yesterday.

"I voted because women struggled entirely too long to get the vote," said Van Wensil, after voting at the St. Augustine School in Elkridge.

"Even if I'm not excited about a specific election, I feel it's my duty to the women of history," she said.

The race that generated the most local publicity and interest among voters is traditionally viewed as an obscure contest -- the sheriff's race.

Three Democrats challenged incumbent sheriff Herbert L. Stoneseifer. The campaign focused on the fact that two deputies -- Maj. Donald L. Pruitt and Sgt. Dennis L. Pruitt -- have been suspended with pay since April for engaging in "Nazi mimicry" while on duty.

"I don't like what's going on in the sheriff's department right now," said Rosalie Wallace after voting at Ellicott Mills Middle School.

Despite the low turnout, candidates with no primary race came out to work the skimpy crowds.

"It's a chance to exercise your organization, to gear up for the general election," said Dennis Schrader, who was waiting to find out if he'd face Pendergrass or Smith in November for the first district council race.

Incumbent councilwoman Angela Beltram, D-2nd, and her general election challenger Darrell Drown were at Ellicott City Middle School yesterday.

"We're just here because we love politics," Drown said.

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