State voter turnout not as high as expected

November 08, 2008|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,

Voter turnout in Maryland was not as overwhelming as expected.

About 76 percent of registered voters headed to the polls or voted absentee, far short of the projected 85 percent turnout that would have set a record and that elections officials had predicted. The number of ballots cast, however, did reach a high of 2.6 million, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Only 66 percent of registered voters in Baltimore City turned out, according to preliminary data. Turnout was higher in Baltimore County, at 75 percent. In the vote-rich Washington suburbs, 79 percent of Montgomery County's registered voters cast ballots, while 74 percent did so in Prince George's County.

The historic presidential election that sent the first African-American to the White House stirred excitement and spurred some voters to the polls, though the day's damp weather might have deterred others, observers said. In the last presidential election, 78 percent of registered voters, about 2.4 million people, turned out. This year's total includes absentee ballots received as of Thursday.

"It's amazing to me that we had 2.6 million people participate in Maryland, and everything went as smoothly as it did," said Linda Lamone, the state's elections administrator.

Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Michael Cryor said turnout was "impressive," and that he was struck by so many people who were "thrilled" about participating in the election despite the weather.

Democrats had an extensive registration operation and enlisted more than 225,000 new voters for this election. Cryor said he saw an influx of young people who not only wanted to register but to volunteer, as well as those who had constituted a "nonparticipating underclass," including many African-American males.

Republicans, who are outnumbered in Maryland, registered about 43,000 voters this year and used phone banks to remind voters to head to the polls. Justin Ready, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said their registration efforts have been hampered by the unpopularity of President Bush and Republicans nationally.

Nonetheless, Ready said GOP turnout was "very high" and predicted that the newly registered members are more likely to vote again as opposed to some newly registered Democrats who just turned out for this election.

Baltimore Sun reporter Gadi Dechter contributed to this article.

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