Despite an apparent surge of voter unhappiness and near perfect weather, Marylanders trickled to the polls today in lower than usual numbers to elect officials ranging from sheriff to governor.
A check at about a half-dozen polling places in north and East Baltimore showed an extremely light turnout two hours after the polls opened. But in Baltimore County -- where a hotly contested county executive race and the tax-cap issue have stirred more voter interest -- lines were reported at several voting spots near Towson.
At the Harford Senior Citizens Center, in the 4900 block of Harford Road in Hamilton, an official said only 13 of 359 registered voters had cast ballots as of 8:30 a.m.
At a 7-11 convenience store near the senior center, 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 going to vote against the incumbents because I think we need a change. I'm a registered Democrat but I didn't vote for 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 an empty Ann Street Recreation Center and said, "We do hope it will pick up later on."
But in Idlewylde and Stoneleigh in Baltimore County, officials reported a heavier voter turnout. 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. "I'm surprised that there's been such a turnout."
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, according to recent polls, is in a dogfight with Republican Roger B. Hayden, the former chairman of the county school board. Hayden apparently has tapped into resentment over rising property assessments, and Rasmussen has been dogged by complaints about everything from the size of his public affairs office to the monogrammed shirts he favors. Ironically, both candidates have similar positions on most of the issues.
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 defeated Gilchrest by fewer than 1,500 votes in their first matchup in 1988.
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 recent poll conducted for The Sun put Gilchrest ahead of Dyson, 45 percent to 39 percent, with 16 percent of those surveyed undecided.
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. Supporters of the limits say they will give county government a much-needed shot of discipline. Opponents say the caps will force cutbacks in essential services.
At the top of the ballot, Gov. William Donald Schaefer is seeking a second term, running against Republican William S. Shepard.
Shepard, a retired foreign service officer from Potomac, has repeatedly criticized Schaefer's spending, particularly for things such as the new baseball stadium and the light-rail line through Baltimore. Shepard sparked criticism when he picked his wife, Lois, to run for lieutenant governor on his ticket.
Schaefer has highlighted his own four-year record and done his best to ignore Shepard.