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Voter turnout low for Tuesday primary election

September 13, 2006|by JOE PALAZZOLO / Capital News Service

When the power went off Tuesday morning at Maranatha Brethren Church - the 18th precinct polling place with 11 Deibold machines - voters never suffered.

Election judge Herman Long, who lives next to the church, simply lugged over his generator, which kept the machines operating until around 2:15 p.m. when crews repaired a damaged power line nearby. The machines' battery backups supported them until Long got the generator running.

Not that a four-hour power outage would have affected the turnout much anyway, Long said.

The church had only a trickle of voters - 330 out of a precinct of a registered 2,229 - by 3 p.m.

"You'd think more people would turn out, but they just don't take an interest," Long said. "It's sad."

Dorothy Kaetzel, Washington County's election director, said that no problems were reported at any of the other polling places.

About 1,150 absentee ballots were requested in Washington County, Kaetzel said. As of Tuesday, about 970 had come back. The deadline for ballots to reach the board is Sept. 20, as long as they were postmarked no later than the day before the primary.

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Kaetzel said absentee ballots will be counted Thursday morning. Absentee ballots received after then will be counted Sept. 20.

Provisional ballots will be counted Monday, she said.

As predicted by election officials, initial numbers suggested no increase in turnout compared to the 2004 primaries, despite a cramped ballot, including 23 county commissioner hopefuls and candidates for Maryland's first open Senate seat in 20 years.

In fact, the turnout numbers dipped to 23.4 percent, with all 50 precincts reporting. In the 2004 primary, the turnout was 23.9 percent.

But still, many bucked the trend.

Joe Smavely, 84, said he hasn't skipped a vote in 63 years.

"I never miss it," Smavely said, as he entered the church. "It's my duty ... it's all of our duties."

Outside the polling place at Washington County Library, Nancy Ellis, Joanne Lease and her daughter, Amanda Lease, emptied out of a minivan, voter guides drawn.

"We're just trying to figure out what the issues are," said Ellis, who recently moved from Montgomery County. "What are they, anyway?"

"The Iraq War," her 15-year-old daughter told her.

"What about local issues?"

"Jobs."

"She knows this stuff better than we do," Lease said.

"Just wait until I can vote," Amanda Lease said. "Just wait."

Staff writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.

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