Maryland Democrats completed the second step of a somewhat byzantine delegate selection process Saturday when they picked 41 of the 59 delegates who will represent the party at the Democratic convention in New York City this August.
Although only 10,000 of the more than 1.3 million registered Democrats turned out for the caucuses in each of the state's eight congressional districts, party officials were cheered by the turnout and by the results of the often confusing new selection process.
The results of the May 13 primary committed 32 delegates to President Carter and 26 to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) but did not determine who they would be.
Under rules aimed at opening up the delegate selection process to more women and minorities, the state democratic party adopted a procedure by which party members had to vote again after the primary to choose 41 of the state's 59 delegates, and 30 alternates.
Then on June 19, 13 more delegates will be chosen by the state central committee with the five remaining seats reserved for state party and elected officials.
Because the process favored candidates for delegate who worked hard to get out the vote rather than those who relied on their names, several relatively unknown candidates with strong labor and teachers union support won, and prominent public figures such as former senator Joseph Tydings lost.
"The caucuses are not what people think they are," said Barbara Hoffman, executive director of the state Democratic party. "The election took place May 13. All this did was pick bodies to fill slots already allocated. The angle that was of interest to us as a party was that the only people who won were people who tried to win."
Despite the lofty aims of the new process, the selection plan made its debute to a lot of bellyaching.
In Montgomery County for instance, which embraces all of District 8, a Democratic voter entering the poll at Rockville had to announce his preference for Kennedy to pick three Kennedy delegates or his choice of Carter to pick two Carter delegates, or no one to pick the one delegate who will represent the uncommitted voters. In 1976, Democrats could have voted for all six delegates from the district.
"The whole process stinks," said Fern Krauss of the state party. "You are asking people to come out twice. People have to declare their support and you are taking away their six delegate votes."
Still, however shortchanged, it was an election and citizens of Montgomery thrive on politics. The turnout in District 8 was more than twice that of any other district.
The uncommitted winner in District 8 -- Peter Messitte, a 38-year-old lawyer -- will go to the August convention with the feeling that his constituency is much larger than the 17.4 percent of the vote he garnered in his district. Dissatisfied with Carter's murky foreign policy, and troubled by what he calls Kennedy's "character issue," Messitte says he expects Carter to get the nomination. Though he will not vote to unbind Carter's delegates, neither will he vote for Carter on the first ballot.
"It seems important to send a message that both leaders (Carter and Kennedy) could do better," Messitte said, offering the late Hubert Humphrey as an example of a leader who "never lost his moral effectiveness" and "represented the ideals of the Democratic party."