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Voter Turnout Fails to Top 2002

By Karine Abalyan
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006

WASHINGTON - Though more Marylanders were registered to vote in Tuesday's election than in 2002, voter turnout didn't increase, unofficial counts show.

More than 3.1 million people 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. 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.

"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 percent 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."

 

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Banner graphic by Maryland Newsline's April Chan, incorporating original photos and images provided by Annapolis.gov and Ace-Clipart.com.

Copyright 2006 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.