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On primary day, most Maryland voters just stayed home

ElectionsExecutive BranchGovernmentLarry HoganPersonal Weapon ControlTom Quirk

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.

"I'm sick of the state's policies. Taxes are too high," said lawyer Spencer Pollock, 28, who voted in the Republican gubernatorial primary for Larry Hogan to serve as his party's candidate in November's general election.

"I like that he's a moderate Republican because I'm more of a moderate Republican," the lawyer said after arriving early Tuesday morning to vote at Hampstead Hill Elementary School in Canton. "I prefer Hogan's vision over the vision that we've had the last several years."

Others saw the election as an opportunity to keep Maryland continuing on a similar trajectory.

Democrat Noel Rose, who said he's never missed an election, was pleased with the direction the state had taken under Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is term-limited, and would be happy to see measures he pushed, such as alternative fuels and especially gun control, continued. He wouldn't say, though, who won his support.

Said Rose, who cast his ballot at First English Lutheran Church in Baltimore's Guilford neighborhood, "The important thing is, I didn't vote against anyone."

At a polling place in the Latrobe Homes on East Madison Avenue, Shenay Andrews became just the 29th voter at the precinct around noon. Officials said the turnout had been about average, but it seemed light to Andrews.

"I can see the turnout is going to be low," said the store cashier, who is registered as a Democrat. "I haven't voted in June in God knows when — the summer months people are on vacation."

A few blocks away at the Monument East high-rise housing project on North Aisquith Street, three election judges sat around with little work to attend to.

An hourly tally sheet on the wall showed why: By 1 p.m. just 34 Democrats had come through their doors to vote; the column indicating Republicans was just marked with a series of dashes indicating no votes at all from that party.

Calvin Bland, one of the judges, had not given up hope that more people wanting to cast ballots might show later in the day.

"We're still optimistic we can get 100 voters," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Carrie Wells, Luke Broadwater, Jeff Barker, Jamie Smith Hopkins, Ian Duncan, Scott Dance, Doug Donovan and Will Fesperman contributed to this article.

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