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.”
Precincts located in Potomac saw low turnouts Tuesday afternoon, at slightly more than 10 percent of all registered voters in the precincts showing up to vote. One Rockville precinct saw numbers around 11 percent as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, while two Bethesda precincts saw slightly more than 8 percent turnout of those registered to vote. North Potomac-Darnestown Patch reported 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 Walt Whitman High School 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.