For years, Prince George's County political parties have been able to pass out their literature and parade their candidates at the annual county fair. This year, with the fair returning for the first time in years to the seat of county government, tiny Upper Marlboro, all politicking will be banned--and therein lies a political controversy.

The ban by the County Fair Association, the private, nonprofit group that will put on the event from Sept. 8-10 at the Equestrian Center, has drawn fire from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Richard Scott, spokesman for the fair, said the association felt that too much political literature has ended up as just plain litter on the fair grounds.

Moreover, Scott said, the association wants to safeguard the traditional agricultural and arts and crafts nature of the fair.

But says Gary Alexander, chairman of the Prince George's Democratic Central Committee: "There's more to the county than just that."

Alexander said the Democrats want to use their booth at the fair to enlist volunteers to work for Democratic presidential candidates, register voters and pass out information on the activities of the central committee.

"The 4-H Club is going to be handing out literature. It's a little discriminatory to tell us we can't do the same," said Russell Butler, the central cmmittee member who is working on the Democrats' voter registration drive.

Barbara Anderson, chairman of the county Republican Central Committee, said the Republicans, already outnumbered 3 to 1 by Democrats, were not planning to have a booth at the fair, as they have in the past. "But I don't understand why they won't allow it," she said. "This is strictly a voter education thing."

Scott said members of the Prince George's election board will be allowed to set up tables to register new voters. "We want this to be a nonpartisan thing," he said.

This is the first time in 14 years that the fair will be held in Upper Marlboro, Scott said. In recent years it has been held at Rosecroft or Bowie race tracks. This year the fair association is leasing the Equestrian Center, the site of the former Marlboro Race Track, for the three-day event from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which operates the Equestrian Center. The fair is funded wholly through the private sector, he said.