On primary day, most Maryland voters just stayed home

Turnout light in primary election

  • Turnout was light Tuesday morning at Piney Orchard Elementary School in Odenton.
Turnout was light Tuesday morning at Piney Orchard Elementary… (Jamie Smith Hopkins, Baltimore…)
June 24, 2014|By Yvonne Wenger and Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

As votes were being counted Tuesday night, politicians and poll workers estimated that the turnout for the primary was among the lowest in recent history — leading some to call for the voting to be moved back to the fall in future years.

Despite vigorous campaigning from a full slate of candidates for governor, attorney general and many high-profile local races, such as Baltimore state's attorney, some said the primary didn't take precedence over summer vacations.

"The General Assembly should re-examine this," Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat, said at Hillcrest Elementary School in Catonsville. "It's clear that in late June, the voters are not engaged. People who come to early voting were going to vote anyway."

Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk, a Democrat, also blamed the June timing for the slow pace at polling places. "It's the summer," he said. "People are tuned out. They're at the beach."

At Ridge Ruxton School in Towson, just 186 voters had cast ballots in the first seven hours.

"This is the lowest turnout I've ever seen," said Lee Upton, who has been an election official for more than 20 years. "And we're doing better than most places."

Bored electioneers stood together in the shade at Ridge Ruxton. "We're trying," one said. "We don't have much of an audience," said another, waving to the empty parking lot.

The trend continued in the city.

Turnout was light enough during the lunch hour at Hampstead Hill Academy in Canton that an election judge jokingly urged voters to "advertise" by wearing an "I Voted" sticker. "Bring us some customers," he said.

Some of the Canton residents who did stop in were motivated by voting against established candidates.

Mike Morgan, 62, came out to support Del. Heather R. Mizeur's bid for governor and to push for change in city races. If he recognized a familiar name running for any office, he picked somebody else, he said.

"I'm really tired of ruling families," Morgan said.

City Councilman Robert W. Curran was worried about the consequences of low voter turnout in Baltimore.

A healthy turnout gives candidates — and elected state officials, in turn — a reason to pay attention to the city and look out for its needs, he said.

"Down the road, they're going to look at Baltimore and say, 'Who needs Baltimore?' This is not good," Curran said.

Curran said of the 75 elections he's worked since 1958, Tuesday's appeared to have the worst turnout.

"This is really heartbreaking," he said.

Official turnout statistics from the primary won't be ready for days. The final tally will include provisional and absentee ballots as well as the results from the eight-day early voting period.

A record 141,590 Marylanders cast ballots during newly expanded early voting period that ended on Thursday. That represents more than 4 percent of the electorate and was roughly double the early voters in the 2010 and 2012 primaries, although there were no high-profile statewide races in either of those years.

Tuesday's primary went smoothly by most measures. Voters did report some relatively minor troubles, such as a lack of air conditioning at a Lutherville polling place and a reliance on provisional ballots at a precinct in Baltimore's Waverly neighborhood.

At another city polling place, no election judges showed up.

"We have substitute judges we keep downtown, so we dispatched judges out there," said Armstead B.C. Jones Sr., director of the city's elections board.

It was harder than usual to staff the polls for this primary, he said, because the June date conflicted with summer vacations.

There were reports of scattered issues elsewhere as well. A couple of Montgomery County precincts had problems with the electronic poll books used to check in voters, for example, but had backup procedures in place, said Nikki Baines Charlson, deputy administrator at the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Also in Montgomery, some voters took issue with the Democratic gubernatorial campaign of Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler for allegedly distributing sample ballots intended to resemble the Apple Ballot, which contains the recommendations from the county education association for state and local offices.

The trouble was, the Montgomery County Education Association didn't recommend Gansler. The association backed Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown for governor.

"A lot of us go by the Apple Ballot," said Ingrid Crepau, 65, after voting near her Silver Spring home.

The Apple Ballot — which is red and shaped like an apple — is easily recognizable to those familiar with it. The parent organization of the teachers union alleged that Gansler was distributing sample ballots intended to resemble their ballot.

Gansler responded to the allegation by saying that his sample ballots didn't have any trademark infringement.

While education was a key issue for many voters, others said taxes were at the top of their list.

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