Voter Turnout Fails to Top 2002 - Southern Maryland Headline News

Voter Turnout Fails to Top 2002

By KARINE ABALYAN, Capital News Service

SOUTHERN MARYLAND - Though more Marylanders were registered to vote in Tuesday's election than in 2002, voter turnout didn't increase, unofficial counts show. The comparison is made to the 2002 election since it too was a mid-term election as opposed to the typically more popular presidential elections that last occurred in 2004.

More than 3.1 million Marylanders registered to vote in Tuesday's election, but less than 1.6 million, or 50 percent, voted at the polls, according to numbers released by county election boards.

Calvert County has reported that 54.1 percent (27,250 of 50,369) of the registered voters showed up on Tuesday to vote at the polls. Calvert also mailed out 2,796 absentee ballots.

In Charles County, the estimated turnout at the polls was 49.0 percent (37,375 of 76,274) of the registered voters. Charles County also issued a total of 3,689 absentee ballots this year. As of yesterday, they had received 2,972 (80.6 percent) of those ballots back thus increasing the estimated total turnout to 52.9 percent.

In St. Mary’s County, 50.1 percent (25,878 of 51,629) of the registered voters are estimated to have cast ballots at the polls. Additionally, St. Mary’s County issued a total of 2,549 absentee ballots this year.

Final absentee and provisional counts are not yet available.

If all of the approximately 193,000 outstanding absentee ballots were returned and counted, that percentage could go as high as 56 percent, but elections experts said that is unlikely.

In the 2002 gubernatorial general election, fewer than 2.8 million voters registered, and fewer than 1.7 million, or 59 percent, voted at the polls, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections data. There were 65,824 absentee votes four years ago, bringing the turnout total to about 62 percent.

Each of the three southern Maryland counties experienced less than the state-wide average turnout in 2002. Calvert saw a total turnout of 59.48 percent, Charles saw 55.41 percent, and St. Mary’s saw 58.33 percent.

"The number of eligible voters increased but the turnout didn't," said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins, who was surprised by the trend given the intensity of this year's campaigns and the expectation of higher turnouts among African-American voters.

Election officials hadn't finalized party breakdowns this morning, but experts said it is likely that many Republicans, and Independents who would have voted Republican, sat this one out.

"Even though this was an election that energized Democrats, it dispirited Republicans," said Crenson's colleague, Ben Ginsberg.

Republicans voting on the basis of religious or moral grounds may have been dissuaded following recent scandals, Ginsberg said.

Negative ads, popular in Maryland this year, might have also depressed turnout, he said.

But Ginsberg said he wasn't expecting big changes.

"For a large part of America, the election didn't seem particularly relevant," he said. "I don't think we can do any better given the way our politics are organized."

About 5.4 million people live in Maryland, and 74 percent of them are old enough to vote, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Voting ran smoothly on Tuesday, officials said. Voters complained about long lines in several counties, especially in the morning and late evening hours, but machine and administrative errors, which wreaked havoc in several places during the primary, didn't cause problems.

Things slowed down a bit in some Baltimore precincts when several buildings lost power, said Sam McAfee, who oversees the voting machine warehouse. But of the city's 1,668 machines, only 1 or 2 percent caused problems, he said.

"Basically everything went really well," McAfee said.

Election officials elsewhere reported similar results.

"We had things going very smoothly," said Caroline County Election Director Sandi Logan.

"Turnout has been holding fairly steady in recent years," Ginsberg said. "When all is said and done, turnout was normal in Maryland."

(David Noss contributed to this story.)

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