If the latest high school voter registration figures are any indication, the Republican landslide in November's elections is only the beginning.
Of the 1,320 high school seniors who registered to vote ateight county high schools between May 29 and June 5, 40 percent signed up as Republicans and another 23 percent as independents. Only 37 percent registered as Democrats.
While the preference among students for the GOP is only slightly larger than that for Democrats, it is significant in a county that for years has had an overwhelming Democratic registration. In the last election, for example, Democrats accounted for 51 percent of the registered voters, while Republicans accounted for 37 percent and independents for 12 percent.
With the exception of 1986, when Republican registrations ran slightly ahead of Democratic registrations in the high schools, Democrats have held an edge.
This year, however, student Republicans led Democrats in three of the five council districts.They had a clear majority in the second, where Republican Darrel Drown ousted incumbent Democrat Angela Beltram in November.
Democratsled in the two Columbia districts but had a clear majority only in the fourth, where Democratic incumbent Paul R. Farragut defeated Republican challenger Michael J. Deets by nearly 3,000 votes.
The question to be answered is whether the high school registrations are further evidence of a change in voting patterns that resulted in the ouster of eight Democratic incumbents in November. Carol Arscott, chairwoman of the area Republican Central Committee, is convinced that they are.
"Things are moving in the same direction as the last five years," she said. "We expect to do very well prior to the cut-off (in voter registrations for the May primary) next October."
Arscott said the figure of 23 percent who registered as independents may be inflated, because it is twice as high as the percentage of independents overall and because independents cannot vote in primaries. She questioned whether the concept of "declining to affiliate" with a party was fully explained.
Yet she said she "couldn't be happier" with the Republican domination in the registration figures and is "ecstatic" thatthe registration was done by "a neutral group."
That registrationgroup was headed by Frank T. Lupashunski, president of the Board of Elections Supervisors, who this year decided the best time to conducta voter registration drive in the high schools was during graduationrehearsals.
By timing registration during rehearsals, the election board had a captive audience of sorts, although Lupashunski sought to make it clear that registration was voluntary.
Still, 80 percent chose to register.
Democratic Central Committee chairwoman Sue-Ellen Hantman said that while she was "disappointed" in the figures, she was not surprised because it was "a blind registration (and) we'retalking about kids who have known only Republican presidencies."
Hantman said she would like to see the schools and the election boardallow Democrats and Republicans to make presentations to the students prior to the registrations next year so the students can have some knowledge of what the issues are. "They should be a little more educated," she said.
Pollster Brad Coker, who correctly predicted the Republican landslide here, was not surprised by the registration figures, saying, "If it weren't for Columbia -- one of three places in thenation that always votes Democratic -- (Howard) County would be as Republican as Carroll or Harford."
In addition, "the kids are on a Desert Storm high," Coker said. "They register on the basis of what they see on ABC, NBC and CBS. Ninety percent couldn't say who their local officials are. Of course, that's true for a lot of 35-year-olds, too."
Overall, Coker says he wouldn't read too much into the registration figures. As for the high number of independents, these will probably "never vote" in the next election, he said, but will reappearseveral years later as members of one of the major parties.
GRADUATES' POLITICAL AFFILIATIONS
School ..Democrat .. Republican .. Independent
Atholton .. ..48 (32%) .. ..73 (49%) .. ..*26 (18%)
Centennial .. 62 (33%) .. ..97 (52%) .. .. 29 (15%)
Glenelg .. .. 37 (22%) .. ..70 (42%) .. .. 60 (36%)
Hammond .. .. 26 (31%) .. ..30 (36%) .. .. 28 (33%)
Howard .. .. 110 (52%) .. ..84 (40%) .. .. 18 ( 8%)
Mount Hebron .48 (26%) .. .109 (58%) .. .. 30 (16%)
Oakland Mills 87 (43%) .. ..43 (21%) .. .. 73 (36%)
Wilde Lake .. 67 (51%) .. ..24 (18%) .. .. 40 (31%)
*Includes one Libertarian