Officials fear low turnout for 7th District election Voter interest lacking, says administrator

April 16, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

In yesterday's editions, the number of absentee ballots returned to the Baltimore County election board for the 7th Congressional District race was incorrectly reported. The number of ballots returned was about 400.

The Sun regrets the error.

Baltimore city and county voters in the 7th Congressional District are expected to come out in record numbers today for the special election to pick a successor to former Rep. Kweisi Mfume.

Those would be record low numbers, election officials fear.

"It's going to be a sorry election," said Doris J. Suter, Baltimore County election administrator.

Ms. Suter said she doubted that the percentage of voter turnout would break double digits -- at least in western Baltimore County, where about 25 percent of the 7th District's voters reside.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"There's just not much interest in it," Ms. Suter said, noting that the county election board had received only two absentee ballots in the mail as of yesterday.

She was so concerned that 7th District voters were unaware of the special election that she sent a notice to each of them.

Barbara E. Jackson, Baltimore's election administrator, was a little more optimistic -- though not much.

Ms. Jackson said she was hoping for a 20 percent turnout -- the same percentage as the city's turnout in last month's primary election -- though she conceded that that figure "might be a little high."

"I'm hopeful it won't be too much less than that," she said.

Voters will pick between Democrat Elijah E. Cummings and Republican Kenneth Kondner -- the winners of the March 5 primary in which a record 27 Democrats and five Republicans filed to succeed Mr. Mfume, who left Congress in mid-February to head the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In the primary, just 20 percent of the Baltimore voters in the 7th District went to the polls and 17 percent of the county voters in the 7th District turned out. Both were record lows for the jurisdictions.

Mr. Mfume's exit, in the same year as a regularly scheduled congressional election, required the General Assembly to pass emergency legislation merging the special primary election to fill the 7th District vacancy with the state's regular March 5 primary.

The winner of the special election today will complete the last nine months of Mr. Mfume's term. But, no matter who wins today, Mr. Cummings and Mr. Kondner will face each other again Nov. 5 in the election for the full, two-year congressional term that begins in January.

Mr. Cummings, 45, the Maryland House speaker pro tem from West Baltimore, is favored to win in the district, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 4-to-1. But Mr. Kondner, 54, a businessman from Woodlawn, is hoping that the low turnout will benefit him.

Voters will also have the option of voting for a write-in candidate, Barry Patrick Farley, 40, an unemployed security guard from Remington, who filed with the state election board in time to get his name on the official notice of the election. While his name will not appear on the ballot in voting machines, it will appear on notices in polling places.

Pub Date: 4/16/96

Special election

Baltimore city and county voters in the 7th Congressional District go to the polls today for the special election to pick a successor to former Rep. Kweisi Mfume. Polls: Open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Schools: Though normally closed for elections, city and county schools will be open. Changed polling place: City voters in the Ninth Ward's 4th Precinct who regularly vote at Venable Senior High School (School No. 115), 701 E. 34th St., will vote today at nearby Waverly Elementary School (School No. 51), 3400 Ellerslie Ave.

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