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Tonight's voting deadline

THE TIME for procrastination is over: New voters must register by 9 p.m. today in order to cast their ballots in Baltimore's Sept. 9 city primary.

Regrettably, tens of thousands of Baltimoreans have not yet registered. These include several thousand 16-year-olds who will reach the required voting age of 18 by the November 2004 general election. Additionally, thousands of ex-offenders have not registered even though in many cases a criminal record no longer disqualifies them.

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Barbara E. Jackson, the city elections administrator, expects the current total of 281,600 registered voters to grow by only about 2,500 by tonight's deadline. "Even though there are lots of people doing voter registration, the numbers aren't coming in the way they do normally," she lamented about the lack of interest.

This kind of apathy is as incomprehensible as it is inexcusable. Everyone who lives in Baltimore should take an interest in electing the next mayor, comptroller, and members and president of the City Council, because everyone who lives in Baltimore will be affected by the outcome.

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This year's primary is particularly critical because the City Council faces its biggest overhaul in eight decades. There are no real incumbents. The whole city has been completely redrawn to create 14 new districts; each will be represented by a single council member. The City Council president will be elected at large, as in the past.

The best way to meet today's 9 p.m. deadline is to register in person at the city's board of elections office at 417 E. Fayette St. (telephone: 410-396-5550).

The registration itself can be done in a jiffy. According to Ms. Jackson, the only information a would-be voter needs to supply, in addition to name, address and date of birth, is either a driver's license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number.

The voter must also indicate a party preference. So far, 230,615 city voters have registered as Democrats and 27,173 as Republicans. The number unaffiliated with either of the two major parties, including independents and Greens, is on the rise. Even so, they are still a minority at about 22,000.

In the past, some Baltimoreans refused to register, believing that would exempt them from jury duty. But that tactic doesn't work because motor vehicle records are also used to establish the jury pools.

There are no more excuses. If you're a qualified city resident, do the right thing: Register, vote and claim your stake in the ownership of Baltimore.


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