In Carney, diverse neighbors eager to vote


Not that I have a thing for CNN's John King, but I long to feel his touch.

Not directly, mind you, but I do get jealous when he glides his fingertips over that magic board, and it's never my precinct or even state that zooms up large and significant in the outcome of the election. It's always some burg in Ohio or other swing state, never reliably blue Maryland and our taken-for-granted 10 electoral votes.

Which is why I spent part of yesterday in one of the few nearby places I could find with any sort of Election Day suspense, Precinct 11-16 in Carney. In 2004, the Baltimore County precinct was almost evenly split between President Bush and John Kerry - 487 voted to re-elect the Republican, and just 12 fewer went with the losing Democrat.

In a state of much voter predictability, the precinct seems to have true diversity - political, racial and ethnic; long-timers and newcomers; single-family homes and apartment complexes - and one uniting factor.

"There's really affordable housing here," said Stefani Manowski, 35, a John McCain voter who has lived in the neighborhood for about 11 years.

Four years after splitting the presidential vote, which way would 11-16 go? We don't have precinct data yet, but interviews with voters and election judges yesterday showed much the same trends as were apparent nationwide. High turnout, first and foremost, and a lot of new voters.

"This is my very first time," said Mirna Barbosa, 52, a supervisor at a Target store. "I've always watched the elections. This year, my daughter said, 'It's time. You talk about change, you talk about your wallet, it's time.' "

At times, lines formed out the door of their polling place, Carney Elementary School, which they share with two other precincts. People seemed downright jolly about voting, and determined enough to juggle work and kid- watching schedules.

Peg Miller, 48, and two of her children came to vote together but left after casting just two votes - for Barack Obama - when her son's registration appeared to be under a previous address. The group headed off in search of that polling place, convinced that every vote would count.

"If you asked me last week, I would have said the race was swinging to Obama," Miller said. "I should have stopped watching TV then; they've been saying the race has gotten much tighter in some states."

In my random sampling of about 20 voters, I found a few more for Obama than McCain, especially among first-time voters. A couple said they'd crossed over to the other party from their presidential vote four years ago, although there was significant disenchantment with Bush on both sides.

"We need a lot of change," said Jason D. Panner, a systems engineer who voted for Obama yesterday. "I can't stand the idea of having another Republican in the White House. And I voted for Bush twice. I'm a firm believer, if a president starts a war, he should finish it, but obviously he didn't. He had eight years."

Others, though, and especially older voters, said they went with the more experienced candidate, McCain. That was why Paul Snider, a 69-year-old retiree, voted for him.

His wife, Kathy, remained undecided, even as they walked from their Perry Hall home. Both had voted for Bush in the past, though they are registered Democrats.

"It took me so long. I really did not know who I would vote for until I was looking at the screen," said Kathy Snider, 64, a receptionist at a beauty salon.

McCain's opposition to abortion and Obama's health care plan weighed on her mind - she is pro-choice and against a nationalized health care program - and so, after staring at the screen for a while, she made her choice: Nader. "He has always been someone who has the best interests of the country at heart," she said.

The most passionate feelings, pro and con, were for Obama and GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

"God love her, yes!" said Miriam Brooks, 73, a laid-off receptionist. "She seems down to earth."

But Palin helped cost McCain the vote of George Stover, a 57-year-old independent TV producer.

"I was on the fence with Obama. The fact that he doesn't have enough experience scares me a bit," Stover said. "But when McCain decided to pick Palin, I said, 'Oh, no, no, no, not a heartbeat away.' "

On both sides, though, there was an urgency to vote.

"I'm not sure I've ever voted before," said Howard Youket, 58, who went with McCain. "But this year is so important. Basically, I just don't like Obama's views."

Emotions ran as high as turnout in some cases. Barbosa, the first-time voter, talked about how Obama and his message of change inspired her to, finally, cast a ballot.

"I'm feeling very relaxed," she said, smiling through tears that welled up in her eyes. "I'm very happy to have been here, to do this."

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