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Voter turnout hasn't always been low

May 18, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

Polls open today



The polls for the Hagerstown city election are open today from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Not sure where to vote?

Call the Washington County Board of Elections at 240-313-2050.




HAGERSTOWN -- Fewer Hagerstown residents turned out at the polls for this year's primary election than in years past.

For the city primary in March, 11.8 percent -- or 1,988 -- of the 16,814 registered voters went to the polls, according to statistics from the Washington County Board of Elections.

That figure was down from the primary in 2005, when 15.2 percent -- or 2,365 of the 15,543 people registered -- turned out to vote.

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That same year, about 23.5 percent, or 4,440 of the 18,906 total electorate, voted in the 2005 general election.

Voter turnout was among its lowest in 1997 and 2001, when an average of 11 percent of about 15,000 registered voters cast ballots in those primary elections, and an average of 19.9 percent of about 17,685 registered voters voted in the general elections, election records show.

Dorothy Kaetzel, director of the Washington County Board of Elections, said voter turnout hasn't always been low.

In 1981, for instance, 47 percent of the city's 15,854 registered voters participated in the general election, Kaetzel said. Turnout decreased to 39.6 percent, or 6,615 of the 16,724 total voters in 1985, and to 34.2 percent, or 5,231 of the 15,288 total voters, in 1989.

Kaetzel said Monday that she believed voter turnout was high in 1981, 1985 and 1989 because important issues that involved the former Municipal Electric Light Plant were on the ballot.

The question in 1981 asked whether the City of Hagerstown should "restore the City Light Plant with all necessary appurtenant facilities to full production capacity and make its own electricity to sell to its customers," according to election records. The measure passed by 3,695 votes to 1,585.

In 1985, voters rejected a ballot issue by a vote of 1,404 to 1,397 to authorize the mayor and City Council "to decide in its discretion whether to spend up to $30 million to renovate the Municipal Electric Light Plant." Voters approved a ballot issue in 1989 by 1,964 votes to 1,424 votes that gave the mayor and council the authority "to sell or dispose of the building," election records show.

A ballot question on today's ballot asks voters whether they want to change the dates that municipal elections are held. Although the question is being asked, the election dates officially won't be changed unless the council votes to do so.

The question asks whether Hagerstown's primary and general elections, which are held in March and May in off years between the gubernatorial and presidential elections, should be changed to coincide with presidential elections.

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