Electorate makes choice to stay away

November 07, 2007|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun reporter

City election Pushing her walker as a cab waited outside, Annissie Johnson bustled into a polling place yesterday, determined to cast her ballot.

"I don't miss my voting since the age of 21, and I'm 71 now," said Johnson, who worked in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and '60s as a member of the NAACP. "So many people died for the privilege I have, and I fought hard for it. They were spitting in our black faces - I couldn't hit back and I couldn't spit back."

Johnson, a retired geriatric nurse, was voting at the Ruscombe Gardens apartments on Yellowwood Avenue in Northwest Baltimore, one of dozens of polling places open around the city for its general election. When she was done, she cheerfully headed out, waving goodbye as she went.

If only all eligible voters had been so dedicated.

"It's amazing how many people don't vote when it counts," Jack Tranter, a health care lawyer, said in response to the low turnout being reported early in the day. "Which is probably one of the reasons you ought to vote when it doesn't count."

Tranter, who voted at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School in North Baltimore, was referring to the apparently widespread impression that the election's results were a foregone conclusion after September's Democratic primary. In such an environment, he suggested, people just don't bother.

"It makes the day go longer," said Anthony Jones, a Republican judge at Roland Park - normally a high-turnout polling place - who had checked in only nine voters in the first hour of balloting. "We've got the same crew up as we had in the primary, and we all look forward to seeing some of the old faces, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen this time."

When two voters came in simultaneously, election judge Andrew Winick jocularly begged for a halt to the avalanche. "They have to slow it down," he said. "They're blowing up my prediction."

Winick had an explanation for the torpid pace. "In a blue state like this, you don't expect a big turnout," he said. "The primary is where people turn out in a highly Democratic area where everything is being contested."

A third judge, Melina Turtle, triumphantly called out, "We got another one," every time a voter strolled into the school. But it wasn't often. One of her colleagues dozed on a chair, reviving only to check the empty doorway once in a while.

Less than a block away, the line at Starbucks was eight people long.

Hours later, at 6:30 p.m., Jones reported that 130 people had voted at Roland Park, about 11 percent of the precinct's 1,134 voters. The polls would close 90 minutes later.

Looking to cement her position atop the city government's hierarchy, Mayor Sheila Dixon cast her ballot midmorning at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. As she voted, she urged Baltimoreans to do likewise.

"We need people to realize that the general election is a very important election, and those who are put in office are really going to determine the direction of where Baltimore heads," she said. "I really need people to get out and vote today."

In a similar vein, City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, who voted at the Yellowwood Avenue polling place, suggested that the balmy temperatures might fire up civic duty.

"I wish we'd had this beautiful weather on the primary day," she said, recalling the nasty weather of Sept. 11. "I've been encouraging people to get out and vote. I'm very excited about the possibility of turning things around. I can't wait until the polls close, so we can officially get under way."

Hanan Fleming, an administrator at the city Board of Elections, was also optimistic yesterday that the clear skies, which followed an early morning drizzle, would bring voters out.

"It's sunny out now," she said. "Hopefully people will come."

To Cain Floyd, a retired Baltimore County maintenance worker who voted at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Jewish Community Center on Park Heights Avenue, it should make no difference whether it's raining or shining.

"I vote all the time," he said, as a sudden gust of wind forced him to shield his face with his hand. "Everything's not going to be perfect. It don't take that long to come out and cast your vote."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Sun reporter John Fritze contributed to this article.

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