Deeper blue

Voter tally shows Democrats up

Bates talks of navigating hostile waters

November 02, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

The figures in the county Board of Elections final tally of voter registration before Tuesday's elections tell a story that buoys Democrats and discourages Republicans.

Since the 2004 contest between George Bush and John Kerry, the number of registered GOP voters has dropped from 57,007 to 55,274. By contrast, Democrats have increased their numbers from 76,332 to 84,814, according to board figures totaled after the Oct. 14 registration deadline.

Democrat Kerry won Howard by nearly 10 percentage points and 13,000 votes, with turnout at 81.6 percent.

The number of voters not affiliated with either major party also has increased, from 30,854 four years ago to 35,071 this year.

Those numbers all represent "active" voters, according to the board's administrator, Betty Nordaas. Four years ago, there were an additional 9,243 "inactive" but still eligible voters, compared with 16,012 this year. Inactive voters are those who did not vote in the previous election and who have not responded to board mailings or inquiries.

More than 10,000 people in the county have requested absentee ballots this year, and Nordaas said that she has obtained 64 more voting machines and 31 electronic poll books to help accommodate the expected turnout.

"We're in pretty good shape," she said.

A few poll judges have canceled, but the board has enough alternates to fill the vacancies, she said.

A local focus

Larger-than-life cardboard cutouts of John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, stood near the entrance of the hall at a recent fundraiser for Del. Gail H. Bates at the county fairgrounds in West Friendship. But the looming national election drew virtually no comment at the Republican's event.

Bates' remarks to the crowd of about 40 and much of the other discussion virtually ignored the presidential contest and focused instead on local battles and issues.

"They're all voting for McCain anyway," Bates said later about her crowd as the country music entertainment cranked up with a lively version of "Hey, Good Lookin."

The focus in the national perspective is on battleground states such as Pennsylvania anyway, even for Republicans in Maryland, where Obama is heavily favored.

Among Bates' more light-hearted comments was one that her red blazer and black pants had come from an outlet store, a reference to a reporter's question about reaction to the $150,000 campaign wardrobe allotment for Palin from the GOP.

"What a bunch of nonsense," Bates supporter Veronica Mariani said about the fuss over Palin's clothes.

Instead of dwelling on national politics, Bates and fellow Del. Warren E. Miller explained their precarious position in the Maryland General Assembly, where 37 of the 141 members of the House of Delegates are Republicans.

Bates and Miller, the only two Republican delegates from Howard, often operate as a team, to the point that she calls the 6-foot-4, 280-pound Miller her "little buddy."

"We're outnumbered 3-1 in Annapolis," Miller said at the Oct. 24 event. "To get something done, it takes a lot of work. You have to work with people you don't agree with [on many issues]."

Republicans often must hold their tongues, Miller said, to avoid alienating Democrats whose votes they might need later.

"There are times you want to jump up and say something, but it won't help your cause," he added.

Miller and Bates were appointed to their seats when the delegates elected to the posts resigned to take positions in the Ehrlich administration. Both were elected to full terms in 2006, and are looking to repeat in 2010, though two Democrats, Jonathan Weinstein and Rich Corkran, are mounting efforts to unseat them.

"We already have an opponent," Miller said. "We know we're going to have a fight."

Bates amplified the theme during her brief remarks.

"They [Democrats] really don't need us for anything. They can do what they want," she said.

The exception, the delegate said, is when tax increases are on the table.

"When it comes to raising taxes, they come to us [seeking bipartisan support]," Bates said.

Republicans opposed the tax increases imposed during the special legislative session last November, arguing that spending should be cut. The General Assembly and Gov. Martin O'Malley raised taxes and cut spending, but Bates, an accountant who serves on the House appropriations committee, said that declining revenue has now put the governor and the General Assembly back in the same situation, with a $1 billion shortfall predicted for next fiscal year.

"I don't know what's going to happen this year," she said. "You can't go back to the well again [for more tax increases]. It's really going to be a difficult session."

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