Feelings of apathy, powerlessness lead to low turnout WHERE ARE THE VOTERS? PRIMARY 1994

September 14, 1994|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Rafael Alvarez contributed to this article.

The miniature American flags in poll workers' boaters waved serenely in the breeze. It was a warm breeze, the kind of perfect late-summer breeze that entices people from their homes.

Except that the people, most of them, didn't go to the polls yesterday.

From church to library to American Legion hall across the Baltimore region, the question rippled: Where are the voters?

Eric Jackson was shopping at the Mall in Columbia. A 33-year-old resident of Columbia, Mr. Jackson is vice principal of a Prince George's County school.

"I don't have a good intellectual reason for not voting," he said. "Apathy, I guess."

As he talked, it became clear that he knew the issues and candidates. But as a voter he feels powerless, as if whatever's going to happen is going to happen regardless of whether he votes.

"That's not the attitude I take in handling my day-to-day affairs," Mr. Jackson said. "But as a voter, it's not like anything I can do is going to have an immediate impact on the status quo. My everyday life isn't going to change based on who's in office."

A poll worker miles away understood that attitude. Eric Redwine, a 42-year-old substitute teacher in Baltimore, was passing out campaign literature at the Forest Park branch of the Pratt Library on Garrison Boulevard.

"I think people kind of feel frustrated with government in general," he said. "I think they feel that regardless of whether they vote or not, it's not going to make any difference."

William Asbury, 38, a construction worker from Columbia, said that voting doesn't matter at all.

"No matter who we put in, they're going to play the game," said Mr. Asbury, a non-voter. "The rewards still go to the people with the biggest piece of pie. The little people's piece just keeps getting littler."

Poll workers who knocked on doors for candidates discovered that attitude weeks ago. At the fire hall in Glyndon, Joe Markowitz and David Meadowcroft paused from passing out literature to discuss the ups and downs of supporting a local candidate.

Mr. Markowitz, who lives in Owings Mills and manages Bayside Seafood in Baltimore, supported I. William "Bill" Chase, a Democrat running for the Baltimore County Council from the 3rd District. Mr. Meadowcroft, who lives in Hereford and owns a service station in Baltimore, is the brother of Patrick D. Meadowcroft, a Republican candidate for the same council seat.

Although the two poll workers supported opposing candidates, they agree on many things. The preponderance of voter apathy is one of them.

Mr. Meadowcroft said his brother spoke at forums where the candidates outnumbered the voters. Mr. Markowitz said that residents who greeted him at their front doors usually wanted only for him to leave.

"We take the bitter with the sweet," Mr. Markowitz said. "But you're out there trying. You've contributed.

"Whether Republican or Democrat, we're here for the same things: education, crime, public safety. We want the best for our community. . . . Why are we here? Because we care."

Others care about government, too, although they seemed in the minority yesterday.

At the Campfield Center in Baltimore County, Isabel L. Miles, 98, cast her ballot for Roger B. Hayden, whom she described as a "nice young man."

Mrs. Miles said she hasn't missed an election since 1920, the first year of women's suffrage. She couldn't remember whether she voted for Warren G. Harding that year. But her daughter, Helen Dubel, said that her mother has been a staunch Republican through 19 presidential and numerous other elections in five states.

Voter Chris Plato was not so upbeat about the political process. He is 32 and works in marketing at the PHH Corp., a vehicle-leasing company in Hunt Valley.

He votes, he said, but ran into such a hassle yesterday he's not sure it was worth it.

First, said Mr. Plato, election officials and poll workers took up all the parking spaces where he votes, Warren Elementary School in Cockeysville. Second, two cars decorated with campaign signs occupied the handicapped-parking spaces. And third, poll workers were so aggressive that he nearly had to fight them off.

"I vote because I want to have my say," he noted. "Every election, I go to try and change things. But every election it seems nothing changes."

But this time, after what happened, Mr. Plato said he's "asking myself whether it's worth it."

One good thing happened, though. Mr. Plato voted at mid-morning -- at 10 a.m. -- to avoid the lines.

"I was smart. I went when it was empty," he said. "Of course, I guess it's been empty all day."

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