Election draws lowest turnout in history

A fraction of the city's electorate trickled into polls for Tuesday's primary — the lowest recorded turnout in Baltimore's history.

About 75,000 Baltimore residents voted in the election, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, according to elections officials. That total amounts to about 23 percent of registered voters and about 12 percent of the city's 620,000 population.


Cheswolde resident Barbara Hoffman, a former state senator, lamented the low turnout.

"How mortifying," she said. "Oh my dear. That's really terrible. What does that say about all these people? There are a bunch of really good candidates running for mayor. Its not like it's a poor field. It's a good field. There should be more interest."


Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake cruised to victory in the Democratic primary, and she is expected to win in November's general election, given the city's heavily Democratic electorate. While she drew a number of challengers — including state Sen. Catherine Pugh, former city planning director Otis Rolley, former City Councilman Jody Landers and Baltimore City Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway — they apparently were unable to motivate supporters to go to the polls in large numbers.

In 2007, voter turnout was 28 percent in the Democratic primary carried by former Mayor Sheila Dixon. In 2003, 34 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the mayoral primary won by Martin O'Malley, who is now governor. Even when William Donald Schaefer faced token opposition in seeking his second and third terms in 1975 and 1979, 30 percent of city's voters turned out.

The previous record for the lowest turnout was 27 percent in 1991, election officials said.

On Tuesday residents who shied away from the polls cited time constraints, lack of interest and disillusionment with politics.

"It was all the same old stuff," said 21-year-old Mount Vernon resident Kevin Clark, shrugging his shoulders.

Others said they felt their votes wouldn't matter in an election that Rawlings-Blake was widely predicted to win.

"I didn't vote because I'm pretty sure that Stephanie Rawlings-Blake would win," said Caryn Bell, 25, a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University.

Rolley supporter Tom Aloisi, 46, said he also hesitated, citing a Baltimore Sun poll that showed Rawlings-Blake as a heavy favorite. But he voted anyway.


"I was tempted not to vote today because the mayoral race is supposed to be a runaway," he said. "I didn't think it was going to matter."

The lack of turnout was worrisome to University of Baltimore public affairs professor Lenneal J. Henderson, who blamed a political malaise that has befallen the country and proved difficult for Baltimore mayoral candidates to overcome. He described the contenders as a "very good field."

"Baltimore is not insular," he said. "There's a cloud of pessimism that has descended on the electorate nationally."

Henderson said low turnout could spell trouble for President Barack Obama's re-election effort if it persists.

University of Maryland, Baltimore County public policy professor Donald Norris blamed the local news media for what he called a "lack of coverage" and the candidates for failing to inspire voters.

"This was really one boring campaign," he said. "None of the candidates caught fire. None of the issues caught fire. As hard as the opponents of the mayor tried, they couldn't make any one issue stand out. … And there was damn little media coverage."


Todd Eberly, assistant professor of political science and public policy at St. Mary's College of Maryland, pointed to another problem hampering turnout in Baltimore elections: They take place on different dates than state and federal elections.

"It's always an issue with Baltimore that these elections fall at strange times," he said.

Whatever the reason behind the low turnout, Hoffman said the lack of interest does not bode well for the future of the city.

"People die for the right to vote all over the world," she said. "You get the representation you earn."

Baltimore Sun reporter Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.