Black Friday Sale: Get 75% off a digital subscription
Aberdeen / Havre De Grace

Primary voter turnout in Harford below 25 percent; a few races remain close

Harford County joined the rest of the state in having one of the most dismal voter turnouts in recent memory, with fewer than a quarter of the area's registered voters making it to the polls for Tuesday's primary election.

Harford's election board tallied 33,766 ballots from election day and more than a week of early voting, just 21.26 percent of all registered voters, deputy elections director Dale Livingston reported Wednesday.

That mirrors the statewide result, at about 22 percent.

There were few, if any, surprises in Tuesday's outcome in Harford, where anyone who was an incumbent in an contested primary moved on to the November general election.

Among those successful were Del. Mary-Dulany James who easily defeated Art Helton in the Democratic primary for the District 34 State Senate seat and County Councilman Dick Slutzky who beat former council president Robert Wagner and a third candidate to capture the Republican nomination for Harford County Council president.

James will face Republican Bob Cassilly in the general election for the seat of the retiring Sen. Nancy Jacobs, and Slutzky will face Democrat James Thornton, who won his primary, for the right to succeed retiring Council President Billy Boniface.

There were no contests Tuesday in the race for county executive, so Republican State Sen. Barry Glassman, who got more than 14,000 primary votes and Democrat Joseph Werner, who got 10,000, move on to the general election.

Jeffrey Gahler won the Republican primary for sheriff and with it a rematch with incumbent Sheriff Jesse Bane, who defeated Gahler four years ago.

County Councilman Chad Shrodes won his Republican primary and with it a new term, since he doesn't have a general election opponent, and the five current school board members who are running to keep their seats all made it through the primary round to November's ballot.

No help for Craig

The last two gubernatorial races, both of which featured Bob Ehrlich and Gov. Martin O'Malley, drew turnouts of more than 60 percent in Harford.

There were 149,049 registered voters at that time, according to election board records.

Harford has 158,858 registered voters, according to state statistics. Livingston explained that the slightly higher number she reported earlier is because many 16-year-old residents who are registered to vote even though they are not eligible to vote in this election.

Of those, 67,508 are listed as Democrats, 70,769 are Republican, 29,037 are listed as unaffiliated and 1,194 are others. Also, 701 are Libertarian, 334 are Green and three are the American party.

This year's primary featured crowded fields of Republican and Democratic gubernatorial aspirants seeking their parties' nominations to succeed O'Malley, who is ineligible for another term, but it didn't seem to matter.

Nor did it seem to matter among voters in Harford and Cecil counties that one of the Republican hopefuls was Harford County Executive David Craig, who was counting on a big vote in both – he is a lifelong resident of Harford and his family has Cecil ties – to propel him to the next round of the governor's race.

Though Craig won in both counties, the votes weren't enough to translate big pluralities over Larry Hogan of Prince George's County, who easily took the nomination in statewide voting and will face off in November against Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, an easy winner in the Democratic primary.

Some close finishes

Most of the contested Harford County primary races were not competitive, but the low turnout may have skewed the outcome and left the outcome of a handful in doubt going into two weeks of counting absentee and provisional ballots that began with the first absentee canvass Thursday morning and will end with a final canvass July 7.

There were no changes after Thursday's count.

In the District 34A House of Delegates Democratic primary for two seats, Marla Posey-Moss, of Aberdeen, continued to hold a 108-vote lead over Patrick Murray, of Havre de Grace for the second slot on the general election ballot with Lisanti.

On the Republican side, incumbent Del. Glen Glass was renominated, while Mike Blizzard, of Havre de Grace, continued to lead Beth Boyson, also of Havre de Grace, by 188 votes for the second slot.

In the Republican primary for Harford County Council District F, covering Havre de Grace and Riverside, Curtis Beulah of Havre de Grace held a 45-vote lead over Monica Worrell, of Have de Grace, with the winner to face former Havre de Grace city councilman Joe Smith to succeed Lisanti. Worrell picked gained one vote in Thursday's first absentee count.

In the Democratic primary for the District E council seat covering Aberdeen and Churchville, former councilwoman and state delegate Barbara Kreamer defeated fellow Aberdeen resident Duvowel Peaker, while in the Republican primary Patrick Vincenti, of Churchville, led Daniel Lambros, of Aberdeen, by 174 votes, after gaining three more votes Thursday. The winner of the District E race in November will succeed Slutzky.

Bad idea

Russell Kovach, chairman of the Harford County Democratic Central Committee, said holding the primary in the summer was a bad idea.

"I think timing of the election was very poor," Kovach said, adding it was almost as though election officials said: "What's the earliest they could do it when the kids are out of school?"

"Schools are out, everyone is going away on vacation," he said.

Also, "people just seemed so disenfranchised with politics or disconnected from politics," he said. "I felt like it was a very important election for Harford County and all it showed is a lot of people are not engaged at all."

Kovach pointed out the county council races and the historical significance of the governor's race.

"It will be the first African-American governor [Brown] for the state of Maryland," he said. "I was surprised by some of the results but I think the low turnout impacted that greatly. Looking forward, if the Democrats are going to be successful countywide in any races, we have to have higher turnout in the Democratic strongholds in the lower part of the county."

Paul Magness, of the Harford County Republican Club, said he was not surprised by low voter turnout, but "I was a little surprised by how much lower, and I think the main thing that played into that was the change in primary date."

He noted previous primaries were in September, and, like Kovach, he said many residents did not even know an election was coming up.

"This time there were any number of people that, when we were making phone calls, said, 'There's an election? In June?'" he said.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun