Voters across the Washington area go to the polls today to fill a host of elective offices, installing a new mayor in the District, settling a fractious county executive race in Montgomery County and deciding several hotly contested congressional races.

Polling places in the District and Maryland open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. In Virginia, the polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Turnout is expected to vary widely across the region, ranging from strong in the District, where a record number of voters are registered, to somewhat light in Maryland and Virginia.

District voters will elect their first new mayor in 12 years, a new delegate to Congress for the first time in nearly 20 years and a new chairman of the D.C. Council. Also on the ballot are candidates for the new shadow positions to the U.S. Senate and House, unsalaried and nonvoting seats created by the city to lobby for D.C. statehood.

Democratic mayoral nominee Sharon Pratt Dixon is leading Republican rival Maurice T. Turner Jr., while Democratic delegate candidate Eleanor Holmes Norton leads GOP candidate Harry M. Singleton, according to recent voter surveys.

Mayor Marion Barry, whose arrest, drug trial and sentencing to prison dominated the city and its electoral politics this year, faces an uphill battle in his bid to capture one of two at-large seats on the D.C. Council. A Barry defeat could end the public career of the politician who dominated the capital like no other since the late 1970s.

Dixon, campaigning in Southeast yesterday afternoon, announced plans for a late-night program of basketball, recreation and job counseling to help keep young people out of trouble, and later appeared at a Convention Center rally to which 50,000 people had been invited.

Turner campaigned at Waterside Mall in Southwest and Hechinger Mall in Northeast, and visited a senior citizen center on Bladensburg Road NE.

Barry met with several groups of District government employees yesterday, ostensibly to discuss the transition to a new administration. When asked if the mayor also discussed his council campaign with the city workers, which could violate the Hatch Act prohibition on government employees' involvement in partisan politics, Barry press secretary Lurma Rackley said there was "no telling what kind of conversations might go on" in question-and-answer sessions with employees.

In Maryland, Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D) appears headed for a second four-year term, but some change seems certain in Montgomery County, where Democrat Neal Potter is expected to capture the county executive's office from Sidney Kramer, a Democrat-turned-independent who is mounting a write-in campaign after his defeat by Potter in the primary two months ago.

The size and character of the Montgomery County Council also will be changing, with the panel growing from seven to nine members, five of whom will be elected from new geographic districts.

Potter and Kramer spent part of the final campaign day in downtown Silver Spring, which came to be a symbol of the debate over growth that dominated their primary contest.

Potter's final campaign appearance was at the Silver Spring Metro station, where he handed out literature during the afternoon rush. Kramer said he spent more than two hours at the station in the morning. Albert Ceccone, the GOP candidate, spent time in the eastern end of the county, waving signs at motorists.

The major tools of the Kramer effort are little pencils imprinted with "Write in Sid Kramer, punch ballot." Campaign officials said 100,000 of the pencils will be distributed today. The Potter camp, in a counter-gesture, has erasers stamped with "Erase bossism, elect Potter."

In the governor's race, Schaefer ended his campaign with a tradition from his days as mayor of Baltimore: afternoon tea at the home of two longtime supporters. Republican William S. Shepard campaigned in Baltimore County.

Meanwhile, in the race for the 1st District congressional seat, Republican nominee Wayne T. Gilchrest was trying to step up the pressure in his race to defeat five-term incumbent Roy P. Dyson (D).

Gilchrest, leading in recent polls, campaigned through the Salisbury area on the Eastern Shore yesterday with Vice President Quayle. Quayle was the latest in a series of Bush administration officials to stump for Gilchrest, a teacher who nearly defeated Dyson in 1988 after revelations about the incumbent's ties to defense contractors and the suicide of his chief aide.

Voters in some of Maryland's largest jurisdictions were also set to decide whether to put limits on property tax increases, an idea being pushed by tax-rebel groups in Montgomery, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties and being fought by teachers and other government workers.

In Virginia's 8th District congressional race, Rep. Stan Parris (R) and Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr. (D) spent the day exhorting their supporters to vote and fighting for last-minute exposure on radio and televison.

Both did a series of personal appearances and interviews, though Parris did not make an expected appearance on Diane Rehm's talk show on WAMU-FM. Parris aides said he never committed to do the show.

Virginia Democrats have made Moran's bid for an upset their top priority this year, and the state's top three officials -- Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, Lt. Gov. Donald S. Beyer Jr. and Attorney General Mary Sue Terry -- are expected to work polling places for Moran today.

Statewide, a proposal to issue a new kind of state bond that would finance transportation improvements appeared to be threatened by anti-tax fears and concerns about the worsening Virginia economy.

The ballot question asks voters to change the Virginia Constitution to enable the state government to sell pledge bonds for its highway projects. Some downstate voters are skeptical of the proposal, fearing that most of the money would go to projects in Northern Virginia.

Staff writers Jo-Ann Armao, Kent Jenkins Jr., Howard Schneider and Patrice Gaines-Carter contributed to this report.