Eager to vote

Election enthusiasm has everyone bracing for large turnout

Election 2008

November 01, 2008|By Rick Maese and Scott Calvert | Rick Maese and Scott Calvert,rick.maese@baltsun.com and scott.calvert@baltsun.com

The long lines that will wind around Baltimore polling places on Tuesday will include Sherris Moore, celebrating her 33rd birthday and voting for the first time.

Moore harbors suspicions that her vote will not be counted but said there was never any doubt that she would take part in an election with so much history at stake.

"It was no question," she said. "It was something that had to be done."

The enthusiasm surrounding the presidential campaigns can be felt on street corners in the city, cul-de-sacs in the 'burbs and on either side of long country roads.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Saturday's editions incorrectly reported the turnout in a Maryland presidential election based on faulty data provided by the state elections board: 62 percent of registered voters went to the polls in 1984.

It has been illustrated in heavy turnout, partisan scrutiny and other concerns in states that allow early voting.

Delays of up to four hours have been reported in early voting locations in Miami.

Thousands of lawyers are descending on Florida and Ohio to monitor precincts and spot any irregularities. And ACORN is still battling accusations of registration fraud in many parts of the country.

"We're having our first multi-racial, multi-gender election in 232 years," said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP. "People are responding appropriately. You can really feel it. People feel fully included for the first time."

In Maryland, which has the highest percentage of African-American voters outside the Deep South, elections officials are hoping for the best as they prepare for record participation that could approach 90 percent.

Officials in Baltimore and elsewhere say they're prepared for anything. But the biggest unknown remains how many of the state's 3.4 million registered voters will show up Tuesday.

In recent presidential elections, turnout has ranged from 62 percent in 1982 to 81 percent in 1992.

"We think it will be consistent with higher years," said Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator for the State Board of Elections. "I think conventional wisdom all along was that we could see a record turnout this year."

Early voting figures nationwide already reflect heightened interest in this year's race. Observers say up to one-third of all votes could be cast early in this election, and according to Michael P. McDonald, a political scientist at George Mason University who is tracking early-voting statistics, more than 20 million people have already voted for president.

Because Maryland does not offer early voting, officials here are anticipating a busy day Tuesday. More than 218,000 absentee ballots have been requested in Maryland, but that still leaves hundreds of thousands of voters who have no option but to wait in line.

State and local officials say that they have more machines than ever and that they have addressed past problems such as a shortage of election judges. The high participation in other states hasn't prompted local officials to alter their plans.

"As soon as the candidates were determined, I think we knew this would be historic," said Armstead Jones, Baltimore City Board of Elections director. "Momentum has only built since then. But we've been planning from the beginning for a record turnout."

Jones' office has opened a call center to help handle voter queries, installed greeters at each polling site and ordered 400 more touch-screen voting machines. He says his office will finish training nearly 3,400 election judges this weekend, who will be stationed at 290 city precincts.

"We're prepared, we're excited, we're ready to go," he said.

Regardless of the turnout, working through the ballot itself may prove to be time-consuming. In Baltimore, in addition to two statewide questions, voters face 16 local measures.

State Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat, recommends that voters bring along a book. "Even in a perfect setting, it's going to take a while for everybody to cast their ballot," he said.

In Baltimore County, officials have handled up to 250 absentee ballot requests daily and have rented an additional 150 touch-screen machines, for a total of 2,600 at the county's 219 precincts.

"We knew all along that it was going to be a large turnout, because it's all new blood coming into the world - whether it's a Democrat or a Republican," said Katie Brown, head of the county elections board.

In Howard County, officials say they expect a turnout of up to 90 percent. To accommodate the throng, election administrator Betty Nordaas said she has obtained 64 additional voting machines and 31 more electronic poll books.

"I think it's going to be a very exciting day," Nordaas said. "Everything is going fine, and I hope it continues to go fine."

James Massey, Harford County's director of the board of elections, says the county could exceed 90 percent turnout. He's arranged for 789 voting machines, 139 more than in the 2006 election, to help avoid lines at the polls.

"There is such high interest in this election that the only people not voting are dead or have moved away," Massey said.

Some voters worried that things won't run smoothly, and are taking precautions.

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