Voters in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties turned out in hefty numbers today while Baltimore officials reported "extremely slow" activity as Marylanders went to the polls to elect officials ranging from sheriff to governor.
Doris J. Suter, administrator for the Baltimore County Board of Supervisors of Elections, described voting there as "very hectic countywide" and said lines had been forming at most polling places throughout the morning and into the afternoon.
She predicted a 60 percent or more voter turnout by day's end.
In Stoneleigh near Towson, officials there reported that at 9 a.m. nearly 40 people waited in line at the Stoneleigh School, where voters also had to wade through 20 county ballot questions.
"We've had people complain that lines are too long," said Betty Witherspoon, chief Republican judge at nearby Idlewylde. "I'm surprised that there's been such a turnout."
In Anne Arundel County, elections official Barbara Fisher said that 25 percent of the county's registered voters already had cast their ballots by noon. Both jurisdictions expected heavy turnout when voters left their places of employment.
The heavy turnout in those counties has been attributed to hotly contested county executive races and the tax-cap issue.
But in Baltimore, elections chief Barbara Jackson said, "I was out on the street and I didn't see any candidates, any workers, any voters. It's not like an Election Day."
Jackson said only 2.8 percent of the city's registered voters showed up to vote the first two hours the polls were open.
A check at about a half-dozen polling places in north and East Baltimore showed an extremely light turnout.
At a 7-Eleven convenience store near the Harford Senior Citizens Center polling place, a construction worker pouring coffee had this observation: "All the comedians are getting re-elected today, unfortunately. I'm probably not going to vote."
One irate voter who turned out at P.S. 235 at Walther and Glenmore avenues said, "I'm a registered Democrat but I didn't vote for [Gov. William Donald] Schaefer because he needs to be held accountable for the shambles of the Baltimore City school system. He's an enemy of education."
In East Baltimore's Ward 2, polling place worker Clara Ford looked around a near-empty Ann Street Recreation Center and said, "We do hope it will pick up later on."
Gene M. Raynor, state elections chief, predicted that 47 percent registered voters would turn out, compared with 54 percent four years ago. He based his prediction on the relatively low voter-registration activity since the Sept. 11 primary and the modest number of requests for absentee ballots. Polls remain open until 8 o'clock tonight.
The question of the day is whether some incumbents will survive voter unhappiness over property assessments, taxes and government in general.
Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen is in a dogfight with Republican Roger B. Hayden, the former chairman of the county school board, according to recent polls.
In the congressional 1st District, which includes the Eastern Shore, Southern Maryland and part of Harford County, Rep. Roy P. Dyson is battling Republican challenger Wayne T. Gilchrest, a teacher from Kent County.
Dyson, 41, a five-term Democrat, first vaulted into Congress in part through the troubles of his predecessor, Republican Robert Bauman. This year, Dyson has been hammered by press reports and taunts from Gilchrest that his campaign is bankrolled mostly with special-interest money from outside the state.
Although Dyson scores high marks for constituent service, many 1st District political observers say the congressman is vulnerable this year.
A good gauge of voter unhappiness will come in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, where citizen-sponsored referendums on capping government revenue will be on the ballot. Baltimore County residents will vote on limiting the growth in county property tax revenues at 2 percent a year. In Anne Arundel, a charter amendment would limit the annual growth in property-tax revenue to 4.5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
At the top of the ballot, Democrat Schaefer is seeking a second term as governor, running against Republican William S. Shepard, a retired foreign service officer from Potomac.
Two other Democratic officials, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, are seeking re-election. Towson attorney Edward L. Blanton has challenged Curran's commitment to the death penalty and his efforts to fight crime. Curran made the campaign's biggest news recently when he said he would consider decriminalizing some drugs. Glyndon accountant Larry M. Epstein, 42, has run a largely unnoticed attack on Goldstein, an eight-term incumbent.