Today is going to be a "get out and vote" kind of day. That's Fred Davis' Election Day forecast. And he's got some expertise in the matter.
"Beautiful day. No excuses" not to vote, said Mr. Davis, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. "It's going to be sunny and high around 80 with low humidity."
Beautiful weather or not, Baltimore voters will be choosing party nominees for three citywide offices -- mayor, City Council president and comptroller -- as well as party nominees for the three City Council seats in each of the six districts.
The polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.
And, though many have described this campaign season as lackluster, Barbara A. Jackson, the city administrator of elections, said, "I would like people not to be discouraged and remember that their vote counts and every vote counts, and they should exercise that right."
At the top of the ballot in the Democratic primary, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is seeking a second term against a field of seven challengers led by former mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns, who is seeking to avenge his narrow loss to Mr. Schmoke in 1987.
Also challenging the mayor is another politician seeking to make a comeback, William A. Swisher, who was ousted as city state's attorney by Mr. Schmoke in 1982.
On the Republican side of the ballot, a three-way race has developed for the mayoral nomination among party warhorse Samuel A. Culotta, newcomer Joseph A. Scalia and Bruce K. Price, a Methodist minister. The winner will face formidable odds against the Democratic nominee in the Nov. 5 general election: There are 281,000 registered Democrats in Baltimore, 30,000 registered Republicans.
With City Council President Mary Pat Clarke facing only light opposition, the closest contest of the citywide races may be for the Democratic nomination for city comptroller.
Incumbent Hyman A. Pressman, first elected to the office in 1963, is retiring this year, and three well-known candidates -- 2nd District Councilwoman Jacqueline F. McLean, 3rd District Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III and Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway -- are running hard to succeed him.
The battle over redistricting this spring set the stage for this summer's racially-polarized City Council campaigns. Supporters of the plan, which created five majority black districts, predicted that more blacks would be elected to the council. Today's election will determine whether the next council will have more than the current seven black members.
But racial issues aside, vigorous campaigns developed in council races across the city as newcomers and independents have seriously challenged incumbents in the 1st (East Baltimore) the 2nd (center city), the 3rd (Northeast Baltimore) and the 6th (Southwest Baltimore) districts.
City election officials say they are expecting the voting to go smoothly and predict that early returns could start coming in half an hour after the polls close at 8 p.m. Final results in the major citywide races should be known before midnight, the officials say.
Thus, when Johnnie Mae Purnell arrives at Westside Elementary School at 6 a.m. today, she will join the other election judges in a prayer to "make the day go smoother."
"From where I'm sitting, the worst thing is the people who don'tcome out to vote," said Mrs. Purnell, 65. "I think most people who are interested in good government, they will come out."
What concerns Sam McAfee is not the voters who come to the polls but the 1,098 voting machines at which they will vote. Mr. McAfee is the election board's voting booth maven. He's the man who knows how they work and why they don't.
In the hour before the polls open, Mr. McAfee's crew of 20 technicians will visit each of the 438 precincts to ensure that the machines are running.
If problems arise later in the day, Mr. McAfee will dispatch technicians via taxi to the ailing booth.
"I don't sleep much the night before," said Mr. McAfee, who has been busy all summer programming the machines for today's task. "There's so many things you worry about with this large of a city, with this volume of machines. It's a pretty strenuous exercise."
And if an election judge misplaces the key to a voting booth, Mr. McAfee has a spare for each of the 4,400 keys used on Election Day.