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Updated: Spring Break Slows Voter Turnout In Montgomery County

The 2011 decision that moved Maryland's primary election day to April also caused it to coincide with Montgomery County Public Schools' spring break and may have contributed to a low reported voter turnout in Montgomery County, MD.

Updated, 11:30 a.m.: Spring break may be partially to blame for low voter turnout throughout Montgomery County during Tuesday’s primary elections.

While Montgomery County traditionally sees turnout around 20 percent during primary elections, according to Board of Elections member Nahid Khozeimeh, Tuesday's voter turnout totaled much lower at 14.79 percent.

Many polling officials and campaign representatives worried that spring break played a large part in the low turnout, with longtime election judges, campaigners and voters spending the week before Easter and Passover on vacation with families.

“We’re probably looking at single digit returns,” Majorie Roher, public information officer for the county's Board of Elections, guessed on Tuesday. “I think [spring break] is probably one of two major contributing factors.”

Montgomery County saw a 40.79 percent turnout for the 2008 presidential primary, and a 26.74 percent turnout for the 2004 presidential primary.

Precincts located in , at slightly more than 10 percent of all registered voters in the precincts showing up to vote. One saw numbers around 11 percent as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, while saw slightly more than 8 percent turnout of those registered to vote. precincts with turnouts between 5.3 percent and 9.7 percent Tuesday afternoon.

Roher also attributes part of the low turnout to a contested Republican primary in a mostly Democratic county, as well as redistricting changes.

The Maryland General Assembly in 2011 moved to push the state primaries from earlier in a calendar year to take place in spring. This change pushed the primary election day to coincide with Montgomery County’s spring break for the first time in years.

“I don’t think we’ve ever voted in April before in Maryland,” said former Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan (D), of Rockville.

The change has resulted in a myriad of election issues including few voters, fewer campaign volunteers and fewer election judges, Roher said.

Precincts in Bethesda had to train new election judges at the last minute to fill in for vacationing families, said Austin King, chief election judge for the polling location.

Haydee Laso, an elections operations judge in Potomac for 12 years, agreed that the elections board had trouble finding judges and also attributed the unusually low turnout to spring break.

“We don’t know why the decision was made to have the primary coincide with spring break in Montgomery County,” she said.

“The school calendar was already set when this change was made,” Roher said. “For future elections the schools will know that this is Election Day, but if they decide to take that into account is up to them.”

Montgomery County Public Schools couldn’t yet comment Tuesday night on whether the Board of Education would take up the issue in the future.

“We had scheduled spring break already when the state primaries were set,” said Dana Tofig, spokesman for MCPS. “We set our calendar at least a year ahead of time.”

Sean Sedam, Greg Cohen and Erin Donaghue contributed to this report.


Brigitta Mullican April 04, 2012 at 12:43 PM
In addition to voting on April 3 Montgomery County voters had the opportunity for Early Voting from March 24-29. The State and County spent a lot of money to provide early voting opportunities. Those who voted early reported loving it. I don't believe that April 3 coinciding with Montgomery County Public Schools' spring break was the cause for poor voter turnout. Many voters believe that the NOVEMBER General Election is the important ELECTION and they did not hear enough from the candidates running. Even fewer knew about the gerrymandered maps in Districts 6 & 8 and that the "League of Women Voters Guide" was available in the libraries and on-line at: http://mont1.lwvmd.org/n/sites/default/files/Voters_Guide_2012_Low_Res.pdf. The 3rd option for voting was to request an absentee ballot in advance. It does require some homework to be able to vote for good candidates.
Jeff Hawkins April 04, 2012 at 12:45 PM
@JH OK....I'm scratching my head on this one? Did you intend to attach your comment to this article or was it a mistake?
JH April 04, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Jeff --- Yes, Obama's uncle is still awaiting deportation. Hard to explain or justify after all this time. Low turn out is related to people feeling it makes no difference to elected leaders. Here is a case in point ---- concerning failure of elected leaders when it come to enforcing our laws. Think about it.
Dana Tofig April 04, 2012 at 09:32 PM
When the 2011-2012 calendar was set by the Board of Education in December 2010, the primary was in February. After the calendar was approved, the date was shifted to April 3. We set our calendar so far ahead of time because it becomes the framework for many other decisions that need to be made--professional development/training/staff and family vacations/ etc. As Brigitta said, early voting and absentee ballots gave those who would not be here a chance to vote before April 3. Appreciate the conversation. By the way, the 2012-2013 calendar was set on November 8: http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/info/calendars/future/ Dana Tofig Director, Public Information and Web Services MCPS
Bob Hydorn April 05, 2012 at 12:40 PM
I believe the mistake was not by MCPS it was by the Board of Elections.
jag April 05, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Riiiiiight. Now it all makes sense, so long as you don't actually "[t]hink about it."
Katie Griffith (Editor) April 05, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Thanks for the note, Dana!
Katie Griffith (Editor) April 05, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Thanks for the comment Brigitta! I think the idea is that voting isn't always a top priority for busy citizens, and if life comes in the way their first choice may not always be the polls. You're definitely right that early voting requires the homework to find out how, but if the choice is between prepping for vacation and figuring out where to poll, I can guess what people will decide. Again, this is just in general. Certainly an uninterested or ill-informed populace played a large part as well. My poli-sci classes in college debated this for a long time. It was really interesting how passionate everyone got, even though we were just assigned topics. I think our final consensus was that people are just finicky :)
JH April 05, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Frank --- back to cross dressing again? You and the other cab drivers in the County should come clean and get on the right side of the law. I don't care if you go by Francis or Frank, but don't get duped again.
Corbin Dallas Multipass April 05, 2012 at 08:59 PM
"It does require some homework to be able to vote for good candidates." Make it more general - It does require some homework to participate in Democracy. "You're definitely right that early voting requires the homework to find out how, but if the choice is between prepping for vacation and figuring out where to poll, I can guess what people will decide." This is probably right. Patch did a pretty good job of publishing updates on the schedule if I recall correctly, so it really falls into the hands of the people.
Mo April 08, 2012 at 09:26 PM
That would be the state Board of Elections who made the decision to vote during spring break. This was a bad decision because I think it made finding election judges harder and then staff at the schools where there were polling places wasn't very good.
Lynne Masters April 08, 2012 at 09:32 PM
It could be that voter turnout is low because the options were more of the same or more of the same. There was no true demarcation between the candidates - I voted because it is important to vote; but I wished for better choices.
jnrentz1 April 14, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Does anyone think an Open Primary would be better and improve voter turn out?

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