- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

The 3.2 million Virginians who cast ballots this month are the most ever to vote in an election, but as a proportion of those registered to vote, the turnout was hardly record-setting.

Final totals certified last Monday by the State Board of Elections affirmed President Bush’s easy victory in Virginia.

The official tally shows Mr. Bush with 1,716,959 votes, or 53.7 percent, to 1,454,742 for Democratic Sen. John Kerry, or 45.5 percent.

Three other candidates on the ballot together accounted for less than 1 percent of the vote, and 2,393 cast write-in votes for consumer activist Ralph Nader, who was denied a spot on Virginia’s ballot.

The election this year marked the first time the number of Virginia voters surpassed 3 million.

It was 15.5 percent more than the record of 2.8 million voters four years ago.

Voters waited in a few precincts as long as two hours, said Jean Jensen, the board’s executive secretary.

Even with overall participation at record levels, the percentage of eligible voters who made it to the polls showed little growth because of the enormous surge in voter registration in recent years.

The vote this year represented 71.3 percent of the registered electorate, barely topping the 68.5 percent relative turnout in 2000.

The largest proportional turnout was 84.5 percent in 1992, when there were about 1.5 million fewer registered voters.

The “motor-voter” law of the mid-1990s, by which residents register as they update their driver’s licenses, and large voter registration drives this year boosted Virginia’s voter rolls by 444,336 persons since 2000.

More than 222,000 absentee ballots were cast statewide, nearly one-third more than the record absentee vote four years ago.

With the results certified, the 13 Republican electors from across the state are to convene Dec. 13 at the state Capitol and formally cast their votes for Mr. Bush.

The State Board of Elections also determined that Republican Michael Ball will appear first on the Dec. 14 special election ballot to fill the House of Delegates seat from Norfolk that U.S. Rep.-elect Thelma Drake, a Republican, is vacating. Democrat Paula Miller will appear second on the ballot.

Mrs. Drake was elected to succeed Rep. Ed Schrock, a Republican who abruptly dropped his re-election bid in September.

• Cabbie appreciation

The D.C. Taxicab Commission has designated Wednesday as Taxi Appreciation Day.

“The hotels are going to put coffee out for the drivers,” said Edye Schaeffer, a member of the commission’s education committee, which devised the event. “I think it will be good for the city and also boost the morale of the drivers.”

Cabdrivers staged a citywide strike Nov. 17 to protest a plan by Mayor Anthony A. Williams to abolish the Taxicab Commission and replace the zone-fare system with meters.

The daylong strike left many residents and visitors stranded, with travelers waiting for cabs in lines as long as 50 people deep in some parts of the District.

Mrs. Schaeffer said the strike did not prompt the appreciation day, which was modeled after similar events in other cities.

“A lot of cities do have appreciation days for the drivers,” said Mrs. Schaeffer, whose husband owns several cabs in the District. “It is a stressful job and to have people show appreciation would mean a lot” to the drivers.

The commission regulates all for-hire vehicles in the District, including taxis, limousines, sightseeing vehicles and private ambulances.

• Can we talk?

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. says he is willing to meet with the editor of the Baltimore Sun to discuss Mr. Ehrlich’s order banning state officials from talking to a reporter and a columnist at the paper.

He spoke Wednesday night on WBAL Radio.

Sun Editor Timothy Franklin said the Republican governor’s comments are “an encouraging sign.”

But press secretary Greg Massoni says it is unlikely Mr. Ehrlich will meet with Mr. Franklin until the newspaper apologizes for an editorial in 2002 that said Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who is black, brought little to Mr. Ehrlich’s candidacy “but the color of his skin.”

The Sun’s editorial board said it does not apologize for its opinions.

• Opinion on user fees

In an opinion affecting virtually every municipality in Maryland, state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said local impact fees require the approval of the General Assembly.

Mr. Curran said municipalities lack the taxing authority to impose such fees, which are often levied on residents of new subdivisions to fund increased services.

The Frederick News-Post reported that Mr. Curran issued the opinion in a dispute involving the Carroll County community of Taneytown.

The town wanted to impose impact fees to boost fire-protection services.

• ‘Abuser fees’

A single reckless-driving conviction would cost motorists an extra $750 under a legislative proposal intended to generate $140 million annually for Virginia roads and transit projects.

Republican Delegates David B. Albo and Thomas Davis Rust, both of Fairfax County, borrowed the idea of “abuser fees” from New Jersey, which imposes hefty fees on bad drivers.

Under the Virginia proposal, motorists convicted of a serious traffic offense would pay fees in addition to the criminal fines imposed by a court.

The plan sets the fees, charged annually for three years, at $200 for driving with a suspended license, $250 for reckless driving and $300 for driving while intoxicated.

Drivers who have six points deducted from their licenses for other types of traffic violations would pay $100 per year, plus an extra $50 for every point beyond six.

Under the plan, a driver would pay only one fee.

A driver convicted of driving while intoxicated and reckless driving, for example, would pay only the larger fee — $300 — every year for three years.

If approved by the legislature, the measure would mark a significant increase in the financial penalties imposed on traffic infractions.

Mr. Albo, a lawyer who handles traffic cases in Fairfax County, said a driver convicted of speeding at 85 mph in a 55 mph zone would typically pay a $100 fine plus $51 in court costs and have his or her license suspended for 90 days.

Under the bill, that driver also would face an extra $750 in fees.

The proposal by Mr. Albo and Mr. Rust would represent a dramatic increase in state revenue from court-related fines and fees.

Last year, the state collected $53.2 million from fines and $50.7 million from fees designed to cover court-processing costs. Those amounts include all criminal and civil cases, not just traffic violations.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, district courts across Virginia collected fines in 1.3 million traffic cases.

Mr. Albo and Mr. Rust estimate that the state must generate $500 million in new revenue annually to address congestion and other transportation needs.

They said the legislature is unlikely to raise the state’s 17.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax next year.

• Lowering tax cap

Frederick, Md., Mayor Jennifer Dougherty has signed an ordinance giving property tax relief to low-income residents.

The so-called Homestead Tax Credit lowers the cap on property tax increases from 10 percent to 5 percent and is expected to take effect next year.

Mrs. Dougherty reluctantly signed it Wednesday, shortly after it was approved by city aldermen in a 3-2 vote.

She had argued that the ordinance violates the city charter and leaves the city short of cash.

Had the measure not been signed before a state deadline, the new rate wouldn’t take effect for another full year.

• Small-town mayor

William Hudnut says it’s all about “public service.”

The former congressman, former mayor of Indianapolis, Presbyterian minister and “elder statesman” of urban revitalization for six months has been serving as mayor of Chevy Chase.

Mr. Hudnut, 71, likes to joke that he is trying to do something nice for Marylanders.

As four-term mayor of Indianapolis from 1976 to 1991, Mr. Hudnut was instrumental in luring the Colts away from Baltimore in 1984.

That maneuver helped turn his sleepy city into a sports, shopping and entertainment destination, and propelled him to nationwide acclaim as an expert in urban redesign.

With Maryland — and Chevy Chase — now his home, Mr. Hudnut said he just wants to “help out” where he’s located.

He told The Washington Post that he expects to stay on the Town Council until he wears out that “usefulness.”

S.A. Miller contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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