Voters, candidates, elections officials shocked at meager local turnout

Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. defeated Brian Murphy, a Republican primary challenger backed by Sarah Palin, clearing the way for a rematch in November against the Democrat who defeated him four years ago.
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The weather was perfect, the glitches seemed modest and the campaigns were hard fought, but primary election turnout across the Washington region Tuesday appeared very light, officials said.

Throughout the day, turnout was described as slow, disappointing and "a drip." Elections officials said one reason was that tens of thousands of voters had cast early ballots, some under rule changes adopted, in part, to ease long lines on Election Day.

Nevertheless, many were surprised that turnout was so low, particularly in some parts of the District, with its heated mayoral race, and in some Prince George's County neighborhoods, where five candidates were battling to become county executive.

In the District, at Shepherd Elementary School in Ward 4, as uniformed students spilled out for the afternoon, voters walked into the gymnasium and were shown to empty voting booths.

Celeste Woolfork cast her first electronic ballot within four minutes.

"I was surprised there was no wait at all," she said. Although mid-afternoon traffic is generally light on Election Day at Shepherd, Woolfork said, Tuesday's turnout was like light "lite."

"Usually, our neighborhood comes together here," she said. "But I only see four people as opposed to the 40 I'd usually see. I'm going to have to go home and make some calls to make sure people are voting."

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh, who represents Ward 3 in upper Northwest, said turnout was light in her part of the city for some portions of the day.

"Some people are saying it's because of all this early voting, but it seems light even for that," said Cheh, who was supporting D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) over Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) in the mayor's race.

Tuesday evening, about 30 people were at Bunker Hill Elementary School in Northeast, where no electronic voting -- all paper ballots -- was taking place at the time.

In Montgomery County, the parking lot was nearly empty outside Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Bethesda on Tuesday morning, and hardly a handful of voters had arrived to cast their ballots.

"I wouldn't even call it a trickle -- I'd call it a drip," said Amy Stromberg, a campaign volunteer for Del. Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery).

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