ANNAPOLIS -- In past years, Maryland voters have had their say so late in the presidential primary process that a candidate often has already gathered enough delegates to secure the nomination before Maryland even goes to the polls.
But now that Maryland has moved its primary from May to join the states holding primaries and caucuses on Super Tuesday, March 8, there is a new concern. Some political professionals are worried about record low turnouts and voter confusion.
"Even at the Democratic club level people are not aware" that the primary is so close, said Maggie McIntosh, the Maryland coordinator for Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, one of the candidates most strongly organized in the state.
Add to that the fact that the rules governing the selection of delegates to national party conventions are decidedly complicated. But the voter's job is not really too difficult.
Although Democrats and Republicans will go to the polls on the same day, only registered Democrats may cast ballots for the Democratic field and only Republicans may vote in the GOP contest. Independents and those registered in other parties must sit this one out, and it is too late to change registration or to register to vote.
From there, the rules are different for each party, even to the number of delegates the state will send to the conventions. First, the Democrats:
Maryland Democrats will send 77 delegates and 22 alternates to the convention in Atlanta. Forty-four delegates and 14 alternates will be elected by voters at the congressional district level; 10 delegates will be party and elected officials chosen by the party who are not pledged to specific candidates, such as Gov. William Donald Schaefer; nine party leaders and elected officials will be selected by the Democratic State Central Committee in May, and they will be pledged to candidates; and 14 at-large delegates and eight alternates also will be selected by the central committee in May and will go to Atlanta pledged to a candidate.
The biggest change in the Democratic primary this year is that the so-called "beauty contest" is no longer meaningless because it affects the delegate selection process. Each candidate who receives 15 percent or more of the statewide vote will receive a portion of the 23 delegates to be selected by the central committee in May.
Voters will choose among former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt (whose name will still be on the ballot); Dukakis; Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.); Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (Tenn.); former senator Gary Hart; Jesse L. Jackson; Lyndon H. LaRouche (who was placed on the ballot after a petition drive on his behalf) and Sen. Paul Simon (Ill.). Democrats will also be able to vote for "uncommitted to any presidential candidate."
Voters in each congressional district will select from six to nine delegates and alternates, based on a formula involving population and the average of the Democratic vote in the past two presidential elections.
And under Democratic Party rules, the delegation must be equally divided between men and women. So after voting for the presidential candidate, a voter will see two lists of delegates, one of men and one of women.
The ballot will instruct voters on how many delegates to choose. In Prince George's County's 5th congressional district, for instance, voters will select three male delegates, two female delegates, one male alternate and one female alternate. Thus, voters will be told to select no more than four men and no more than three women. The top three finishers on the male side and the top two finishers on female side will become the delegates; the runners-up will be the alternates.
Delegates will be listed in alphabetical order. Next to their names will be either the name of the candidate they support or the word "uncommitted." Therefore, a voter who wanted to vote only for delegates pledged to a certain candidate will have to search the list for those delegates.
Despite all that, under Democratic rules, delegates are not forced at the convention to support the candidates to whom they are pledged. But party officials believe that most by far will.
Now the Republicans:
Maryland Republicans will send 41 delegates and 41 alternates to the convention in New Orleans. Twenty-four delegates, three from each of the state's eight congressional districts, will be selected by Republican voters on March 8. The rest of the delegates will be selected by the Republican State Central Committee at its convention either in March or May.
Republican voters will choose among Vice President Bush; Sen. Robert J. Dole (Kan.); former Delaware governor Pierre S. duPont IV; former secretary of state Alexander Haig; Rep. Jack Kemp (N.Y.) and former television evangelist Pat Robertson. DuPont and Haig will still be on the ballot even though they have dropped out of the race. And Republicans, unlike Democrats, will not have the option of voting for "uncommitted" delegates.
This part of the ballot is very important. Whichever candidate finishes first in the congressional district will have all three delegates bound to vote for him at the convention, and whoever carries the state will receive all 17 of the "at-large" delegates selected by the central committee.
But voters will still select which delegates are sent to the convention. The delegates who are selected by each presidential candidate will carry that candidate's name; the others on the ballot will not have a designation.
Delegates, no matter their designation, must vote at the convention for whichever presidential candidate carries their congressional district, and at-large delegates must vote for the candidate who carries the state as a whole. Delegates are released after the second ballot at the convention or when the candidate they are bound to support withdraws or when he receives less than 35 percent of the vote.
Delegates will select their own alternates.