All quiet on the voting front

Primary: Election volunteers have a desultory time of it until one student arrives to cast his first ballot ever.

March 08, 2000|By Sarah Pekkanen | Sarah Pekkanen,SUN STAFF

The tally on the green chalkboard says it all: As of 12: 30 p.m., only 21 people have shown up.

The Tortuga Room at the University of Maryland, College Park campus is quiet and empty on this Super Tuesday, except for the volunteers who smile brightly each time a student wanders in.

Here comes one now. "Are you here to vote?" a volunteer asks. The student looks confused. "No ... no," she says, backing out.

A woman in a plaid dress arrives: At last, another voter! But she is registered in a different precinct -- in Baltimore, her hometown. She can't vote here. "You have until 8 p.m. to vote there," the volunteer says helpfully. The student frowns, crunches a potato chip, and departs.

The room is empty again. "Do you know what day it is?" exclaims a student in the hallway outside. "Fat Tuesday!"

Then, at a little past 3, Stuart Hammond arrives.

He has a valid photo ID. He has, in the front pocket of his black leather satchel, the voter registration information sent to him by the county. It verifies he is in the correct place, at the correct time.

He steps into voting booth 157 -- into the world of democracy. He is 18, and this is his first-ever vote.

"It's interesting to be part of the process no one else seems to care about," says Hammond, moments after exiting the booth. "Most of my friends could care less."

But Hammond does care. In discussing the political primary, he actually uses the word "excited." As in, "I'm excited to see who wins."

He made an effort to come here. Sure, it was only a short walk out of his way, and yes, the sun is so benevolent Hammond is wearing shorts. His walk wasn't exactly a hardship.

But unlike many of his peers, he planned to show up no matter what.

It isn't because Hammond is enamored of politicians. His inaugural vote was determined mostly by a "process of elimination." He picked Bill Bradley because "none of the other candidates appealed to me." (He declines to elaborate, showing some diplomatic savvy of his own.)

And it isn't because he plans to become a politician and change the world. The freshman from Talbot County is thinking more along the lines of criminal justice.

Hammond is here because "it's important that everyone's voice be heard, from teen-agers to senior citizens."

Outside the Tortuga Room are stacks of the student newspaper, the Diamondback. Says a headline: "Apathy: Studies show most college students do not vote in elections."

Inside, the tally on the chalkboard is about to increase by one.

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