Voter turnout looks low

While competitive races brought voters out in some areas of Maryland, many people chose to sit out Tuesday's election, producing what could be the lowest turnout figure in years.

Elections officials weren't expected to have complete results until Wednesday, but reports from poll judges, candidates and voters indicated turnout was light throughout the state.


Primary elections generally have lower turnout than general elections, but political watchers said that voters seemed even less enthused than usual about Tuesday's races.

Four years ago, 29.6 percent of voters turned out for the primary. In 2002 it was 30.7 percent. By noon yesterday voter turnout ranged from 4 percent to 10 percent, depending on the precinct, according to election officials.


Some candidates and campaign aides cited a lack of compelling races, as many legislative seats were uncontested. Candidates in some of the biggest races, including gubernatorial candidates Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, and Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. were virtually assured of victories. The tea party sentiment has also had less of an impact in mostly Democratic Maryland than in other states, political experts said.

Others cited a general apathy toward government.

Former Maryland Secretary of State John Willis said turnout in Baltimore would likely be the lowest 20 years. He attributed the level to "voter fatigue" with economic conditions.

"I think that a lot of the public is more concerned about their owned economic situation than they are the rubble and the squabble going on in politics," said Willis, who teaches government and public policy at the University of Baltimore. "The political chatter isn't relevant when people are worried about their own economic situation. We're certainly going to be the lowest among a generation or more."

"The big choice is going to be between the parties in November," said state Sen. Andy Harris, a Republican looking for a rematch in the 1st District congressional race against Frank Kratovil. Harris said many voters didn't see significant differences or choices among the candidates.

Former Republican gubernatorial nominee Ellen Sauerbrey said: "I think maybe people are waiting unitl November when they think it really matters."

James Massey, Harford County elections director, said the county posted a 20 percent primary turnout, the lowest in years. The county typically attracts half of its nearly 150,000 registered voters in the primary and has often exceeded 80 percent in the general election.

"We are surprisingly low," Massey said. "I thought there would be much more interest in the Republican races."


Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a former Baltimore City councilman who was running for delegate in the 44th District, said only three people accepted his offer of a bus to drive voters to the polls.

"It's just an overall mood," Mitchell said. "People are tired of the negativity. I think a lot of people just decided to sit this one out and wait for the general election."

In Salisbury, a local member of the state Republican central committee, Joe Collins, said he wasn't sure that turnout was off on the Lower Shore. He cited some early numbers suggesting that turnout would be close to the average there of 23 percent to 28 percent.

Leslie Pittler, a member of the Baltimore County Revenue Authority and a longtime follower of Baltimore County politics, said the low turnout doesn't portend well for Democrats in November.

"It means that Democrat voters aren't that interested," he said while waiting for results in the Baltimore County executive contest. "I think it bodes ill for the Democratic Party this November. … I think people are just upset. … "

Baltimore Sun reporters Mary Gail Hare, Julie Bykowicz and Arthur Hirsch contributed to this article.