Overeager Voters in Va., Md. Suffer a Super Letdown

By Tim Craig and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Hundreds of confused Virginians and some Marylanders jumped the gun yesterday, showing up at polls or calling election officials to find out where to cast ballots, even though the presidential primary is next week.

Virginia and Maryland were not among the 24 Super Tuesday states that voted yesterday, but that word apparently did not make it to some voters. Virginia, Maryland and the District vote on the 12th.

More than 700 people called the Virginia State Board of Elections to ask, "Why aren't my polls opened, and where do I go to vote?" said Susan S. Pollard, a spokeswoman for the board. On a typical day, the board fields 150 to 200 calls.

The Fairfax County elections board was getting about five calls an hour yesterday morning from voters asking where they should go vote.

"To receive so many calls asking about Super Tuesday and when do we vote in Virginia is unheard of," Pollard said. "Granted, we have to wait and see, but I think turnout [next Tuesday] will be a bit more than people originally anticipated."

Maryland Election Administrator Linda H. Lamone said that "the phones have been ringing all day" but that she had no way to quantify what percentage of the callers were confused about the primary.

Donna Duncan, director of election management for the Maryland State Board of Elections, said that "it's possible that the overall media coverage of Super Tuesday led some people to think" Maryland was voting.

Yesterday's so-called national primary also confused some voters in Texas. Election officials in San Antonio told reporters they got more than 1,000 calls, even though Texas's primary is March 4.

Election offices in Virginia have reported a spike in applications for absentee ballots, and registration figures show a surge in interest from voters younger than 25.

That could be good news for Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) in his matchup against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) for the Democratic nomination. National public opinion polls indicate Obama leads Clinton by wide margins among young voters.

Between Jan. 1 and 14, which was the last day to register in time to vote in Virginia's primary, the state board registered 37,500 new voters. Of those, 22,500 were younger than 25.

"In 14 days, that is a lot of newly registered voters," Pollard said. "I think it is definitely indicative of the interest people have in these upcoming primaries, and when you look at the newly registered voters, that is a sizeable amount of young voters voting for the first time."

Yesterday, Obama picked up support from Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille, Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim, Roanoke Mayor Nelson Harris and Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris. Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder endorsed Obama last month.

In a conference call with reporters, Norris said he is "quite confident" Obama will carry Charlottesville because many students at the University of Virginia are enthusiastic about him. "One of the exciting things about Obama is he has inspired so many young people to get involved in politics," Norris said.

On Monday, Clinton released a list of the 100 members of her Virginia steering committee. Among them are Sen. Patricia S. Ticer (Alexandria), Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (Arlington), Del. Adam P. Ebbin (Alexandria), Del. Albert C. Eisenberg (Arlington) and the novelist John Grisham, who owns a home near Charlottesville.

Clinton will probably be the first Democratic candidate to campaign in Virginia after Super Tuesday. She was supposed to hold a rally today in Northern Virginia, but the campaign announced yesterday that it had been rescheduled for tomorrow. A location had not been determined.

Staff writer Bill Turque contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company