ANNAPOLIS – On Nov. 7, Maryland voters will get to choose from 14 presidential candidates, pick a senator, select a Congress member and choose among more than 20 candidates for Maryland judgeships.
But the only way to pick a winner is to register to vote.
The deadline to register for the presidential general election is 9 p.m. Friday.
Maryland’s presidential ballot has six party candidates: Republican Texas Gov. George Bush, Democrat Vice President Al Gore, Green Party consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Reform Party television commentator Pat Buchanan, Libertarian Party businessman Harry Browne and Constitution Party Howard Phillips. There also are eight write-in candidates for the nation’s highest office.
Bush has the edge over Gore, 48 to 45 percent, in a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Wednesday. Because of the 3 percentage point margin of error, it’s considered a statistical dead heat.
Green Party candidate Nader received 3 percent. Buchanan was the only other candidate to win enough support to be mentioned in the survey, but he garnered less than 1 percent. The poll was conducted by phone among 1,457 self- identified registered voters.
And, according to numbers from county boards of elections, while overall voter registration is up over 1996 rates, last-minute registrations are fewer than they were in the last presidential season in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, two of the state’s most populous jurisdictions.
In Montgomery, 9,530 new voters registered in September 1996. This year only 7,414 new Montgomery County voters registered in September.
In Prince George’s, 8,040 new voters registered in September 1996, while 6,811 new voters registered this September.
The decline in last-minute registrations could be because more voters are taking advantage of a 1995 law allowing Marylanders to register to vote at the Motor Vehicle Administration, according to elections officials.
Overall voter registration in Montgomery has increased from 413,793 in 1996 to 446,418 as of Oct. 1, said Stuart Harvey, with the Montgomery County Board of Elections.
Registrations in October could be higher than usual, Harvey said, because a new Maryland law extended voter registration before the election by five days.
“I’ve heard numerous times that this has been the biggest voter registration ever,” said Kimberly Phillips, voter registration coordinator for the Maryland Board of Elections.
With a 56 percent statewide voter turnout in the 1996 general election, it is unclear whether an increase in new voter registrations will effect the election.
U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes’ seat is up for grabs, as well as all eight Maryland congressional seats, including Republican Constance A. Morella’s hotly contested Bethesda district. Several judgeships are on the ballot, including all eight circuit court judges and three appellate judges.
There are two statewide constitutional ballot questions up for vote, including one on election and terms of office for county officers and another on property for redevelopment purposes.
Thirteen local questions are also on ballots across Maryland including a question in Montgomery County on term limits for the County Council and county executive.
Voter registration applications are available at the county and state boards of elections and many other state agencies or from the state board of elections Web site – http://www.elections.state.md.us/ – or by calling the board at (800) 222-8683.
To be qualified to vote, you must be a U.S. citizen, age 18 or older by Election Day whose official or permanent home is in Maryland and who is not disqualified by a criminal record or under guardianship for mental disability.