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Low voter turnout is typical

March 01, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Voter turnout percentages in primary elections for the City of Hagerstown have remained flat for the past several elections, and the county's elections director isn't expecting any major changes this year.

"There's just voter apathy all the time," said Washington County Board of Elections Director Dorothy Kaetzel, who has been with the board since 1980. "A lot of people just only vote for president."

The city's primary election is Tuesday, March 8. Ten Democrats are vying for nomination to five spots on the May 17 general election ballot. Four Republicans are competing to be the GOP's sole candidate on the general election ballot.

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The Republican nominees for City Council and the Democratic nominee for mayor are already set because there is no primary opposition.

For the past five city primary elections, the largest primary turnout in terms of total voters was in 2001, when 1,802 out of 15,454 registered voters - or 11.6 percent - went to the polls.

"Isn't that awful?" Kaetzel said.

The lowest number of total voters when both Democrats and Republicans voted in a primary was in 1997, when 1,538 voted in the primary, or 10.4 percent of the 14,726 registered voters.

There are 8,494 active registered Democrats and 7,044 active Republicans who can vote in next Tuesday's election, according to election board statistics.

Kaetzel said county election officials have suggested that city officials consider linking their elections with other, more popular turnouts such as the presidential or gubernatorial elections to boost voter numbers.

Such an effort by one councilman earlier this year was unsuccessful.

Councilman N. Linn Hendershot asked others to consider changing the election schedule to be in sync with presidential elections, but there was no support for his proposal. The other council members said city issues would be overshadowed by broader voter issues.

Kaetzel said efforts through the so-called motor-voter laws to register voters through motor vehicle registrations have increased the number of registered voters, but at least in local elections, appear to have had little effect on turnout numbers.

Kaetzel said another major factor in voter turnout is the weather.

"If it's a beautiful, sunny day, yeah, that helps," Kaetzel said.

Some primary day weather notes:

· According to www.weather.com on Monday, the weather forecast for Tuesday, March 8, 2005, includes a 60 percent chance of snow, a high of 40 degrees and a low of 20.

· ccording to www.i4weather.net, which has current and historic data for Hagerstown:

· On March 8, 2004, it was mostly cloudy over Hagerstown, with wind gusts of up to 36 mph. The high temperature was 42 degrees, low temperature was 30.

· The 30-year average high temperature for March 8 is 49 degrees, the average low is 28.

· For the last city primary on March 13, 2001, there was one-tenth of an inch of recorded rain, a high of 60 degrees, a low of 38 degrees, and damaging wind gusts of up to 56 miles an hour.

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