Statewide voter turnout described as 'pathetic'

September 12, 1990|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff Patrick Gilbert, William Thompson, Bruce Reid, Kevin Thomas, Jon Morgan and Larry Carson contributed to this story.

Lou Carter, the chief Democratic election judge at a Bolton Hill polling place, had a simple assesment of yesterday's primary turnout:

"It's pathetic."

That was the sentiment across much of the state, as only about 30 percent of those eligible voted, despite good weather and a long list of races. That fell below the 35 percent turnout forecast by usually accurate election board officials.

At Carter's polling place, less than a quarter of the eligible voters turned out to cast ballots.

"There doesn't seem to be any controversy. There haven't been any stands," Carter said.

At Dulaney Senior High in Baltimore County, only 274 people voted, out of 2,000 registered, a turnout of less than 14 percent.

"It's been absolutely, terribly bad," said John Gavierick, a campaign worker for Del. Martha S. Klima, R-Balto. Co. Gavierick said there were only five voters at Dulaney in the first 45 minutes the polls were open.

Lea Petr, a precinct worker for delegate hopeful Gerry Brewster, said things were so slow she took time at midday to don shorts and take a few turns on the Dulaney High track.

"I've never seen an election like this," said Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen.

Voting was somewhat heavier in Dundalk, where candidates had waged active battles for a County Council seat and House of Delegates seat. Even in Dundalk, though, the scores of political workers at most polling places easily outnumbered voters.

David Huff, who worked a Brooklyn Park poll for his father, Del. W. Ray Huff, blamed the turnout on the forecasters.

"The radios are blasting 35 percent voter turnout all day long," Huff said. "So people don't think they need to come out. If the radio wouldn't say it, people would come."

Not everyone, of course, sat this one out.

William Hughes, 29, said he drove 80 miles per hour from Washington to reach the Brooklyn Park polling place before it closed.

"Once you get older, you start to get into politics and try to help the community out," Hughes said, noting proudly that his wife, Beth, also 29, voted for the first time yesterday.

Another Brooklyn Park voter, Joan Adams, chided the non-voters: "If you don't get out and line up with your man or woman, they don't have a chance. One vote could keep your candidate out."

At his celebration headquarters inside the Baltimore School for the Arts, Gov. William Donald Schaefer attributed the voter apathy to lackluster races with few burning issues.

"You just could not excite people," Schaefer said, adding that although the abortion question loomed menacingly in some contests, he suspected that few voters' minds were changed by the campaign rhetoric.

From his secure perspective as a primary victor, Schaefer said politicians view the feeble turnout in one of two ways: "If you're winning, you say people are satisfied. If you're on the other side, you say people just don't care."

William H. Murphy Jr., one-time city Circuit Court judge and a city mayoral candidate in 1983, said that the turnout was the worst he had seen since 1968 when a torrential all-day rain held voter turnout below 30 percent.

Waiting for the results to be tallied in an East Baltimore precinct, Murphy said, "Voters over 40 have been carrying the black community for some time, but they are geting fewer and fewer. It seems that voters under 40 just aren't interested any more in the political process."

"We're going to have to take a hard look at black politics," Murphy said.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, said "We're going to have to do a better job of getting the message to the voters, especially the younger ones, that the more people who vote, the better representatives they will have."

"For some reason, we just haven't done that good a job."

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