Voters won't tax system 962 new machines will tally votes for 1st time, at 254 sites

Few expected to show

Turnout is predicted at 1-in-3 in balloting Tuesday in Baltimore

Campaign 1998

September 13, 1998|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

For many Baltimore voters, the most exciting thing about Tuesday's primary may be the flashy new voting system.

Computerized machines -- 962 in all -- will be used for the first time at 254 polling places as voters choose from among 277 candidates vying to run in November for positions ranging from governor to clerk of the courts.

But given the shortage of truly competitive statewide primary races, and the fact that the top city offices -- mayor, city comptroller and council -- are not on the ballot until next year, few voters are expected to show up to try the machines out.

The city elections chief and officials of the Republican and Democratic parties are predicting that no more than one in three registered voters will bother to come to the polls.

"I'd be amazed if it hits 33 percent," said Robert W. Curran, vice chairman of the city's Democratic State Central Committee.

"I'm going to say at this point 27 [percent] to 29 percent turnout," said Barbara E. Jackson, Baltimore's elections director.

"I'd say between 20 [percent] and 25 percent," said David R. Blumberg, head of the city's Republican Party.

All agreed turnout would be somewhat higher if Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann had remained in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Rehrmann, who had the backing of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke but trailed badly in the polls, dropped out of the race Aug. 10, though her name remains on the ballot. That has left Gov. Parris N. Glendening to face just two little-known challengers.

But at least some of the enthusiasm wiped out by the withdrawal of Rehrmann may be replaced by the presence of two popular Baltimore candidates in the Democratic race for state comptroller -- first-term city comptroller Joan M. Pratt and former mayor and governor William Donald Schaefer. Schaefer's name, in particular, may energize some voters who were inclined to stay home, observers say.

Even if the turnout reaches 33 percent, as it did in the 1994 gubernatorial primary, there will be fewer voters at the polls. That's because the number of registered voters in the city has dropped from 320,000 four years ago to 279,835 today, according to election officials. Of those registered, 235,673 are Democrats; 27,392 are Republicans; 16,486 are independents; and the remainder are members of minor parties.

In the city's eight state legislative districts, four of the incumbent Democratic state senators face no opposition and only one district -- the 47th -- has more than one Republican candidate.

The city's state Senate contests drawing the most attention are in the 41st and 44th districts.

In the 41st, Del. Frank D. Boston Jr.'s bitter race to unseat Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount has grown more acrimonious after Boston's unsuccessful legal challenge to Blount's residency.

Boston had charged in a lawsuit that Blount's name should be removed from the ballot because he did not meet the state's residency requirement, saying the 27-year legislator actually lived in Pikesville and that the Northwest Baltimore apartment he listed as his address was nothing more than a mail drop. But this month, the state's highest court said Blount's name could remain on the ballot, reversing a lower court ruling that said there was "overwhelming" evidence that Blount did not live in his district.

In the 44th, Del. Clarence M. Mitchell IV and John D. Jefferies are locked in a struggle for the seat held by former Sen. Larry Young, who was expelled from the state Senate in January for violating state ethics law by using his public office for private gain.

Jefferies, a former state delegate who lost his seat four years ago to Mitchell, was selected by the district's Democratic central committee to serve the final year of Young's term.

Those Senate races have also created competitive contests for the three House seats in the 41st and 44th, with only one incumbent running for re-election in each district. The 43rd is also the center of a strong challenge to three incumbent delegates, principally by community activist Pat Gorman.

Among the citywide races, the sitting judges on Baltimore Circuit Court face electoral opposition for only the second time this decade. The nine judges -- two veterans running for second 15-year terms and seven recent appointees facing the voters for the first time -- are running as a team and are facing a challenge by Assistant State's Attorney Page Croyder.

The judicial candidates are listed on both Democratic and Republican ballots. If the top nine vote-getters on the two-part ballots are different, the judges will be selected in the general election.

Also, nine Democrats are running for the court clerk post left open by the death of Saundra Banks in August 1997 and filled since then by the chief deputy, who is not seeking the job.

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