ANNAPOLIS – Despite reports of long lines at the polls and unusual voter interest in this year’s elections, Maryland’s registered voters did not vote in the large numbers officials expected.
The State Board of Elections reported only 71 percent of registered voters participated Tuesday, up 1 percent from the low turnout in the 1996 general election.
The 10 electoral votes at stake in Maryland went to Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, who easily defeated Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the state by 17 percentage points, or 322,433 votes, according to unofficial results. The candidates campaigned in Maryland only lightly because its scant electoral votes were considered reliably in the Democratic column.
Meanwhile, the nation turned its attention to Florida, where 25 electoral votes remained up for grabs pending a recount Wednesday.
Several battleground states had higher turnout, according to state boards of election. In Minnesota, where former state auditor Mark Dayton knocked off incumbent Rod Grams for the U.S. Senate, 87 percent of registered voters went to the polls. Oregon, which conducted its first mail-in election, had an estimated 81 percent turnout, and Georgia, where voters waited as long as four hours to cast ballots, predicted an all-time high exceeding 1992’s 73 percent turnout. Nearly all Maryland congressional races brought large victory margins for incumbents. The only close contest was in Montgomery County, where incumbent Republican Rep. Connie A. Morella narrowly defeated Democratic challenger Terry L. Lierman. That contest helped the county draw the second-highest turnout in the state, 76 percent, to Prince George’s County’s 77 percent. Both counties also had controversial term limits propositions on the ballot. Prince George’s voters elected to continue limiting county council members and the county executive to a maximum of two four-year terms of office, while Montgomery voters rejected a measure to impose such limits. Robin Downs, acting election administrator of the Prince George’s County Board of Elections, said although the ballot question was important to some voters, the presidential election was the real draw.
Anxious voters called her office all week to see if they were properly registered, she said. A record number of voters – almost 10,000 – requested absentee ballots.
“I’m not surprised,” Downs said of the large Tuesday turnout. “I don’t know about all the other counties, but I could tell from all the activity up here that it was going to be a high turnout.”
But some counties did not see that activity pan out in the final numbers.
“I was even afraid we didn’t have enough ballots,” said Sandra Logan, election director for Caroline County. The county ordered enough ballots for more than 80 percent turnout, but the final numbers showed only 62 percent of registered voters showed up at the polling places. That figure was down 6 percent from 1996.
“You look at the lines and think there’s higher turnout, but there isn’t,” said Curtis B. Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. “The truth comes in the numbers.”
Gans employs a different method of calculating turnout than the state. He uses a percentage of eligible voters, rather than a percentage of those registered. He estimated that 104.5 million Americans voted, or about 51 percent. In Maryland, he estimated turnout at 49 percent Tuesday, up from 47 percent in 1996.
Donna Duncan of the State Board of Elections said the numbers are not final, as the precincts are still counting more than 100,000 absentee ballots. Final tallies should be available by Nov. 17.