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Few voters or surprises in primary election

Turnout was low for Tuesday's primary election at polling places in Laurel, as expected.

With so few contested races, and what experts say is the usual apathy found in a nonpresidential election cycle, the turnout wasn't a surprise.

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Among incumbents who ran for re-election with no primary challenger in local races were Democratic District 21 state Sen. Jim Rosapepe and Democratic Dels. Ben Barnes, Barbara Frush and Joseline Peña-Melnyk. The three will face Republican challenger, Katherine Butcher, in the general election.

Laurel's District 1 County Councilwoman Mary Lehman, a Democrat, also faced no challenger in her bid for re-election, but was out campaigning in her district throughout the day.

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In one of the few local contested races, incumbent District 23 state Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters was ahead of his Democratic challenger David Grogan, 77.8 percent to 22.2 percent, with 51 percent of precincts reporting. No Republicans are running for the seat.

In District 23A, which includes some of South Laurel, incumbent Democratic Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith was without a challenger in the primary, and will face Shukoor Ahmed, an Independent from Bowie, in the general election.

Opening the doors at 7 a.m., Laurel precincts saw a slow, yet steady flow of voter turnout. At Bond Mill Elementary School, usually an active precinct, the only line was in the morning.

"It's shocking that it's so light," Laurel resident and former Prince George's County Council president Tom Dernoga said Tuesday morning. "Bond Mill has always been busy ... it's one of the biggest and busiest polls in Laurel."

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Poll counts from Laurel precincts showed that more Democrats were turning out than Republicans.

"The ratio between Democrats and Republicans is 4 to 1 among voters here in Bond Mill," said Susan Sumner, chief judge of the fifth precinct in District 21 in Laurel.

Dernoga said he is seeing more voters who are over 55 years old. However, the ages of voters in other Laurel precincts, such as the Robert J. DiPietro Community Center and Laurel Volunteer Fire Department, varied among young adults to seniors.

"It's been a mixed group of voters who turned out today," Claudette Philpot, a community center election volunteer and Laurel resident said mid-day.

Philpot said that many voters who have come to the community center brought their children along.

"A lot of them teach their kids how to vote so that they can be ready when it's their time to vote," Philpot said.

Laurel resident Barbara Williams, 78, said she first voted in 1960 for late President John F. Kennedy.

"It's a privilege," Williams said. "More African Americans are voting because of the Freedom Riders and issues that gave us advantageous results."

Nikki Greco, chief of staff for Gansler's running mate, Jolene Ivey, was a volunteer for the 13th precinct in Laurel. Greco attributed low voter turnout to people being less interested in general.

"The primaries were moved up earlier this year and because of that, many people are unaware of the primaries," Greco said. "This primary is a very biased one, especially when a favored candidate was chosen."

At Bond Mill, Sumner said early voting could also be a contributing factor for the low voter turnout.

"I think more people are voting early since the primaries are in June this year," Sumner said. "I've seen less competition and just less interest in the primaries, which is sad."

Only about 2 percent of local voters took advantage of early voting, which was held June 12 to 19.

Despite the low voter turnout in Laurel precincts, campaigners, volunteers and workers were excited to be at the precincts helping out their community.

"We are a congenial group," said Doug Wenk, a Democrat and first-time chief judge of the first precinct in District 32, who was working at the polls at Maryland City Elementary. "What makes the day better is being around people that you can get along with."

Stephanie Gutierrez-Munguia is a graduate student at the University of Maryland.

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