If activity at the Montgomery County Board of Elections is any indication, interest in this year's presidential election is at its highest in recent memory -- and that could bode well for Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee.
Margaret Jurgensen, Montgomery County's election director, said her office is swamped with people registering or updating their registration information. She said the level of activity "may be unprecedented."
"One of the things we are seeing this time around is there is a lot of interest in citizens getting their fellow citizens registered to vote," Jurgensen said.
The board offers twice-weekly training sessions that teach people how to register new voters; since May, the 10-seat classes have been full, Jurgensen said.
The efforts of voter-registration canvassers, combined with residents who are registering on their own, have swelled the county's voter rolls.
Last month, 5,314 people registered to vote or recorded a new address in the county. That is 25 percent more than did so in the same period during the 2000 presidential race, when there were 4,143 new registrations during July.
"I would expect this trend to continue through the close of registration on October 12," Jurgensen said, referring to the deadline for registering in time for the November election.
And while Jurgensen said she couldn't determine whether the heightened interest benefits Kerry or President Bush, it appears Democrats are widening their voter registration advantage in the county.
At the end of April, 130,931 more Democrats than Republicans had registered to vote in Montgomery. By the end of last month, 272,853 voters had registered to vote as Democrats, compared with 134,172 as Republicans, meaning that the Democrats had widened their advantage to 138,681, according to voter registration statistics.
Duncan Treads Lightly
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) is struggling with his public position on the thorny issue of same-sex marriage.
Two weeks ago, Duncan waded into the debate by telling a newspaper for Washington's gay community that he supports a lawsuit seeking to overturn a state ban on same-sex marriages.
In the interview printed in the Washington Blade, Duncan said Equality Maryland and the American Civil Liberties Union were correct in filing a lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court on behalf of nine gay couples challenging the ban.
The suit, which could end up before the Maryland Court of Appeals, says the ban violates the state constitution's equal protection clause. "I talked with Equality Maryland and they asked that I support the court case, which I do," Duncan told the Washington Blade. "Look, gay marriages have been taking place in Massachusetts, the sky is not falling, there's no doom and gloom."
But Duncan was much more circumspect when he discussed the issue in an interview this week. Although he said he supports the lawsuit because he wants the courts to decide the issue once and for all, he declined to give his personal view on gay marriage.
"It's a civil rights issue, and it is being resolved by the courts, and I think that is the appropriate venue for it," Duncan said.
When asked whether he would support state legislation to legalize same-sex marriages, Duncan's only response was that Equality Maryland, a gay advocacy group, was not pushing for a legislative solution.
"I support the efforts as it relates to this meeting" with Equality Maryland, said Duncan, who signed a law in 1999 that gave domestic-partnership benefits to county employees in same-sex relationships.
Duncan's nuanced position highlights the potential pitfalls over the issue for a politician who is considering a statewide run for office, as Duncan is for governor in 2006. While gays and lesbians are an important Democratic constituency, a Washington Post poll earlier this year found 58 percent of Marylanders oppose same-sex marriage.
Walkway Far From Pedestrian
The county's newest construction project will be much more than a pedestrian bridge across the Beltway along the west side of Georgia Avenue in Wheaton. It will also be a public art gallery.
On Monday, county officials broke ground on a $7.7 million elevated walkway between Locust Grove Road and Forest Glen Road, near the Forest Glen Metro station, to give pedestrians and cyclists a way of safely bypassing three heavily congested ramps to the Beltway.
"This is something that has been needed for quite some time," Duncan said at the groundbreaking ceremony. "It's going to improve the safety of a lot of people quite a bit."
The quarter-mile bridge, scheduled to be completed in fall 2006, is being paid for with a combination of state, local and federal funds. And to add to its appeal, the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County will adorn the walkway with 11 56-inch bronze sculptures.
Raya Bodnarchuk, an associate professor at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, has been selected as the artist and plans to shape the sculptures to look like a variety of animals.
"You will recognize all these things," Bodnarchuk said.
A Fair Poll for Democrats
The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee is handing out mock ballots at its tent at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair, which runs until Saturday.
The ballot offers participants the chance to identify what they feel are the leading issues (the choices include jobs, environment, the war in Iraq and others) and to predict what percentage of the popular vote the Democratic ticket will receive in November.
As a poll, the value of this exercise is limited, acknowledges Louise Gallun, the committee's vice chairman. Statistically speaking, it will reveal what Democratic-minded fairgoers think about the issues and the November vote -- and not much more.
The committee conducted a similar survey at the fair last year. The question: Who should be the Democrats' candidate for president? Those who participated in the survey selected Howard Dean first, with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman and Kerry tied for second.
Staff writer Cameron W. Barr contributed to this report.