Baltimoreans, many of them grumbling about redistricting and the selection of candidates, trickled to the polls today to select Democratic and Republican nominees for mayor, comptroller and the City Council.
Election officials said that 40,631 voters -- 12.5 percent of the registered voters -- had cast ballots by 1 p.m., 34 percent fewer than had voted by the same time in the 1987 primary.
"The few people who have come in to vote have bitterly complained about the gerrymandering and the new districts," said Bill Ozborn, a Republican judge at the United Methodist Church at Northern Parkway and Charles Street, which was moved from the 3rd to the 5th District.
Only 134 voters voted there by noon, a turnout described as "very low."
A police officer standing watch at the church summed it up this way: "Nobody cares. Nobody likes any of the candidates, and nobody cares."
At Precinct 35 in Ward 27, the Hamilton branch library in the 3rd Councilmanic District, only 50 of the 600 voters registered there had voted by 11:45 a.m. The talk there, too, was gloomy.
Jackson predicted that voter turnout would be the lowest in years, perhaps 30 percent. During the last municipal primary in 1987, turnout was about 46 percent. The lowest mayoral primary turnout in recent years was in 1979, when 32 percent of the registered voters cast ballots.
"The campaign has been very quiet, very subdued," Jackson explained.
There were more people electioneering than voting at the Glenmount Elementary School on Walther Avenue in the Gardenville-Hamilton area. By 9:30 a.m., only 42 people had voted.
"It's going to be rare, if at all, that we'll have people standing in line to vote," said David Heise Sr., a Republican judge for Precinct 13, Ward 27. "It's a shame, but there's not much you can do."
One Ward 27 voter who did turn out said he was nevertheless discouraged, both by recent redistricting of the council, and by the candidates.
John Whalen, 66, said moving his precinct into the 1st District made no sense: "We have nothing in common with the people in Highlandtown."
Minor problems were reported at some polling places.
Barbara E. Jackson, the city's elections board administrator, said voting at the Greenspring Middle School was halted briefly when two voting machines failed to open. She said election judges thought the machines were broken, when in fact they failed to give two voters proper voting instructions.
"We have quite a few new judges," Jackson said. The problem was resolved but several voters did leave without voting.
Seven voters were turned away during a 90-minute delay at the Harford Road Senior Center, in Precinct 7, Ward 27. Officials reported they had no sharpened pencils, no string or tape for signs and no Republican judge until 7:45 a.m. It was 8:30 before the machines were up and running.
Much was at stake in today's vote.
The mayor's office was up for grabs. For the first time since 1963, the comptroller's race was being run without Hyman A. Pressman, the incumbent, who is retiring because of declining health.
Also, City Council members were scrambling to save their political necks because redistricting has for the first time given blacks voting majorities in five of Baltimore's six council districts.
The new district lines were expected to give blacks and independent candidates a greater shot at council seats. Nonetheless, many incumbents were favored to emerge as winners tonight.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, 41, who was seeking a second four-year term, was up against seven opponents for the Democratic mayoral nomination.
His top challengers were former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns, whom Schmoke narrowly defeated in 1987, and William A. Swisher, a former state's attorney, whom Schmoke knocked out of office in 1982.
Burns and Swisher, who are strapped for money, were firing their final salvos at Schmoke in television and radio spots. Schmoke was returning the fire with radio commercials accusing his opponents of running negative campaigns because "they have nothing positive to offer."
"The public knows these guys," Schmoke said. "They are tired, old voices from the past."
Schmoke and Burns spent yesterday doing some last-minute campaigning, making telephone calls and pumping up their volunteers. Swisher, 58, went through the pre-election routine, but he also was mourning for Charles E. "Eddie" Scheuerman, who was shot and killed by bandits yesterday in his Gardenville gun shop.
"It hurts," Swisher said. "He was really helping me out."
Six candidates were vying in the Republican mayoral primary. The winner gets the opportunity to run against the Democratic nominee -- and the 9-1 Democratic voter registration edge -- in the Nov. 5 general election.
In the Democratic race for council president, incumbent Mary Pat Clarke was facing activist Daki Napata, who raised no money and put together no visible organization for his campaign.
In the tight comptroller's race, fewer than a half-dozen points in the opinion polls separated Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway; Councilman Joseph T. Jody Landers 3rd, D-3rd; and Councilwoman Jacqueline F. McLean, D-2nd.