The 2022 midterm elections featured a range of candidates for elected office — from U.S. Senate to governor to County Council — yet fewer Anne Arundel County residents voted compared with 2018, according to State Board of Elections data.
This year about 218,500 people cast ballots — 59,754 by mail, 38,931 during early voting, 113,815 on Election Day and about 6,000 provisionally, according to the data, which is still being finalized by the elections board. Of 406,492 eligible voters in the county this year, about 53% cast ballots.
That’s a 7-percentage-point decline from 2018, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and before mail-in voting became popular, when more than 231,000, or 60%, of the county’s 386,000 eligible voters turned out. That year more than 11,700 voted by mail while about 145,700 voted on Election Day, nearly 69,500 voted early and about 5,000 voted provisionally.
Voter turnout, especially during midterm elections, can ebb and flow based on factors that don’t have much to do with local politics, such as who is in the White House, and what party controls Congress.
This year’s turnout decline could be attributed to former President Donald Trump no longer being on the ballot, said Dan Nataf, a local pollster and political science professor at Anne Arundel Community College. In 2018, Democratic and Republican voters turned out in droves in reaction to the first few years of Trump’s leadership.
“In 2018, I think the turnout momentum was based on national politics. There was just so much energy both ways with regards to the Trump presidency that it mobilized an unprecedented number of people to participate in that election,” Nataf said. “This time, with Republicans especially, they are divided in a way that Democrats are not.”
It was always going to be hard to beat voter turnout from four years ago, “a record year for midterms,” said Steve Raabe, president of Annapolis-based polling firm OpinionWorks, which conducted a poll in collaboration with The Capital in October.
“It would be tough to achieve that high watermark again,” he said.
Though the State Board of Election has not released a party breakdown of this election’s voters, Nataf said he expects fewer Republicans voted this year while about the same number of Democrats turned out. He pointed to the Anne Arundel County executive race as an example.
Incumbent Democratic County Executive Steuart Pittman defeated Republican County Council member Jessica Haire with 53.7% of the vote.
Pittman received about 115,400 votes in 2022 compared to around 119,000 votes in 2018. Meanwhile, Haire received 99,000 votes, nearly 9,000 fewer than the 108,000 votes former County Executive Steve Schuh had against Pittman four years ago.
Registration numbers would support Nataf’s theory. As of October, about 176,000 Democrats were registered in Anne Arundel County, a 7% increase over 2018 when 164,000 were registered. Since 2018, Republican registration has dropped by about 4%, from 136,000 to 131,000, data shows.
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Nataf said he suspects Haire and other Republicans on the ballot may have been held back by Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox being at the top of the ticket. Partly because Cox was backed by Trump, he was perceived as a more extreme candidate than Gov. Larry Hogan. who was at the top of the Republican ticket in 2018. Hogan is considered a more moderate conservative who could unite both sides of the Republican party and Democrats.
“Some people just didn’t show up. It was an easier decision to not have to make the decision, ‘Do I vote for this guy Cox, who my favorite candidate in the world, Larry Hogan, says is a whack job or do I just avoid the pressure that that puts on me?’ ” Nataf said. “There are those in the Republican Party who don’t fixate on culture war stuff. Hogan’s one of them. I just don’t know where they go.”
While some voters may have shown up to the polls to vote for Hogan and decided to fill out the rest of the ballot for Republicans, Nataf suspects Cox may have had a “reverse coattails” effect on other Republicans. Perhaps Republicans who would have voted for Haire for county executive didn’t end up filling out a ballot because they didn’t want to face the choice of Democrat Wes Moore versus Cox for governor.
This year was relatively high for turnout, Raabe said, particularly compared to previous elections. In 2014, about 49% of eligible county voters cast ballots. In 2010 it was about 58%. He attributes some of that to how mail-in ballots has made voting easier for various groups.
“There’s been a national story about the turnout of Gen Z voters and, when you make voting easier for groups in the electorate that don’t vote as heavily, than you do see them tend to come out a little bit more,” Raabe said. “The custom of voting has changed because of the pandemic.”
Both pollsters said the next few elections will be very telling of how the county is shifting politically.
“It’ll be an interesting next four and eight years,” Nataf said.