Election Turnout Falls Short Of Forecasts

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 16, 2008

Contrary to most expectations and predictions, initial numbers indicate that the percentage of registered voters in Maryland and the District who cast ballots in this year's election was in line with past presidential elections -- or in some areas actually dipped.

Make no mistake: More people cast ballots this year than in previous elections. But preliminary reports show that the numbers paled in comparison with a surge in voter registration that has taken place since the 2004 presidential election. Turnout as a measure of registrants who voted -- a standard way of calculating the figure -- did not show dramatic increases.

In Maryland, figures collected by the State Board of Elections late last week indicated a turnout of 76.38 percent of registered voters, a drop from 2004, when 78.03 percent went to the polls. And in the District, preliminary numbers indicated that the percentage of registered voters who turned out was a bit lower than in 2004 and 2000.

The same was not true in Virginia, a battleground state where the presidential campaigns of Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) invested considerable energy getting out the vote. There, the number of registered voters went up, as did the percentage who cast ballots.

But Maryland and the District, securely in the Democratic camp, defied forecasts that the chance to vote for the nation's first black president would bring extraordinary numbers to the polls. Even where turnout was up, it failed in some cases to reach levels predicted by elections officials.

In heavily Democratic Montgomery County, about 23,000 more people voted than in 2004. Turnout as of Friday's count was hovering around 78 percent -- a drop since 2004 -- because the higher voting numbers did not keep pace with the 40,500 voters added to registration rolls in the past four years.

The increase was also a far cry from the almost 40,000 additional people who voted in 2004 compared with 2000.

There was lower turnout among registered Democrats and Republicans in Montgomery, election officials said.

Marjorie Roher, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery Board of Elections, said polls were busy in the morning but far less crowded in the afternoon than in past years. She said election officials are puzzling over the numbers, wondering why more people who had registered did not vote.

"It's a question -- why register to vote if you're not going to vote?" she said.

In Prince George's County, a majority-black and heavily Democratic jurisdiction that enthusiastically embraced Obama's candidacy, turnout rose from 2004 but did not come close to the 85 to 90 percent that had been predicted by election officials. And in Baltimore, which has similar racial demographics, turnout was a bit lower than in 2004.

"A lot of people were bracing for about 80 percent turnout, and it didn't happen," said Kenneth J. McGhie, general counsel for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.

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