- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

BALTIMORE — An extraordinary set of circumstances failed to lure voters to the polls yesterday for Baltimore’s primary election, the city elections director said.

Baltimore made national headlines when a scheduling quirk put the city’s primary 14 months before the general election, allowing some 16-year-olds the chance to vote.

But the publicity wasn’t translating into numbers at the polls, elections director Barbara Jackson said yesterday. She was projecting a 28 percent turnout, below the usual 30 percent to 35 percent. By 1:30 p.m., Miss Jackson said her office had recorded about 24,000 voters, compared to an average of about 40,000.

“It’s a wasted opportunity,” Miss Jackson said. “It’s such a unique election, but if it’s an extremely low turnout, below 25 percent, that would be terrible.”

The primary is extremely important in Baltimore. Eighty-seven percent of registered voters are Democrats and the Democratic primary winner almost always prevails in the general election.

In downtown Baltimore, volunteers for the candidates greatly outnumbered the few voters who trickled into polling stations.

“I was so shocked there weren’t any people there,” said Valeria Tunctson, who said she voted for Andrey Bundley, a high school principal challenging Mayor Martin O’Malley. “I got in and got out. I haven’t seen it like that in a long time.”

Mr. O’Malley, who was shaking hands and talking to voters near the polls at the Enoch Pratt Library downtown, said the low turnout could be the result of the progress the city had made during his time in office.

“There’s much more optimism today. We were a very worried city four years ago,” Mr. O’Malley said. “This year we’re all business. … People are believing in each other and the city.”

Frank Wright, who said he was going to vote for Mr. O’Malley, said the apathy might be due to the mayor’s popularity and the fact that yesterday’s primary wasn’t associated with a national election.

“I think people see O’Malley winning in a landslide,” said Mr. Wright, 58, a lawyer. “I don’t think any of his challengers have stirred up any excitement, broadly.”

Mr. Bundley’s potentially uphill task is what captured Miss Tunctson’s interest.

“I go for underdogs,” said Miss Tunctson, 53, who works at a medical insurance company.

Mr. Bundley spent the days leading up to the election criticizing what he called a mismanaged, overaggressive police department. He appeared in a TV ad standing in handcuffs in front of a police cruiser. Mr. Bundley was briefly handcuffed and issued a criminal citation for putting campaign leaflets on cars in July.

Mr. O’Malley, who raised $2.8 million to Mr. Bundley’s $126,000, said Monday: “I think the voters are smart, and whatever ads are run in these closing hours, I think the people of Baltimore recognize progress when they see it.”

The 14-month gap between primary and general election occurred after city voters decided in a referendum to synchronize Baltimore’s general election with the U.S. presidential race. But only the General Assembly can move the primary date, and the legislature failed to do so. The general election is set for Nov. 2, 2004.

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