A long but festive wait at some Md. polling places

Turnout

Election 2008

November 05, 2008|By Scott Calvert and Melissa Harris | Scott Calvert and Melissa Harris,scott.calvert@baltsun.com and melissa.harris@baltsun.com

The polls weren't even open early yesterday when Heru-ka Anu began to rally his fellow voters. Anu, who said he had been waiting with his wife at the head of the line at Baltimore's Dickey Hill Elementary School since 4:30 a.m., led a chant of Barack Obama's campaign slogan, "Yes, We Can."

Moments later, his wife Nana emerged from the voting booth with her thumbs poking skyward.

"Yes," she exclaimed, "we did!"

Across the Baltimore region and beyond, a crush of voters queued up early, often enduring waits of an hour or more with little if any complaint. It was a historic election, and the mood at many polling places was celebratory.

Election experts were predicting the biggest turnout in a presidential campaign in Maryland since World War II. Turnout was projected to be around 85 percent of registered voters, said Ross Goldstein, the deputy state elections director.

"This could very well be the record for modern politics," said John T. Willis, a former Maryland secretary of state.

The presidential contest - and the prospect that the country might elect its first black leader - drove much of the excitement in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1. But there were other factors, including the contentious proposal to legalize slot machines and a fiercely fought race in the 1st Congressional District, which covers the Eastern Shore and areas near Baltimore.

Across the country, a similar story played out at as long lines snaked down streets and around blocks. Based on early voting, George Mason University political scientist Michael McDonald predicted a nationwide turnout equaling that of the 1960 contest between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon.

The biggest challenge, locally and nationally, appeared to be the size of the crowds. Only scattered glitches were reported.

In New Jersey, some voters had to cast paper ballots when electronic voting machines malfunctioned. In Ohio, paper jams caused delays.

A ceiling collapse at one polling place outside Philadelphia injured three and closed the site for an hour. Election officials in Pennsylvania, a state with a large electoral prize that both campaigns saw as being within reach, expected a record turnout.

In Baltimore County, election officials had to deploy additional voting equipment around lunchtime to three polling centers - Woodmoor Elementary School, Augsburg Lutheran Home and Edmondson Heights Elementary - to ease waits that stretched past 90 minutes.

Katie A. Brown, county elections director, said her office had allocated resources to those polling sites based on the number of registered voters. But voters flocked to the precinct in exceptional numbers in the morning.

Meredith Curtis, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, called the turnout "heartening" but said lines were "excessively long."

"Many people don't have much time to take away from their jobs, or they have child care issues," she said. "It's important for democracy to not place unnecessary hurdles in the way of people participating."

She said the state can celebrate a number of successes this year: better training of poll workers, fewer complaints, functioning equipment and precincts opening on time. "But the long lines are the unfortunate part of the story," she said.

In some areas, the pace of voting slowed later in the day but remained brisk.

By 3 p.m., a church polling place in Lutherville had seen 427 voters, about 58 percent of the precinct's registered voters - and 3 percent above the total number of voters in February's primary.

"It's a very important election, and it makes a difference at this date and time," said David Lovette, the chief election judge at the polling place in Carroll's-Gill's United Methodist Church. "And it's historical, from both parties."

Earlier, Shayna Foster, 26, waited in line for three hours for "an opportunity for change." The line at her precinct, Woodmoor Elementary in Gwynn Oak, traveled down a hallway, out the door and around the building.

"It really is a life-changing moment today, and people were going to make sure they were a part of it, no matter what," Foster said. "Voter turnout in Maryland is sketchy at times, but today is a perfect example of everyone doing their very best to make sure their vote was counted."

At George Washington Elementary School near M&T Bank Stadium, Susie Kincaid, 64, was the first of 150 people in line before polls opened. The school is near a proposed site for a slot machine parlor.

Kincaid, who lives in Pigtown and supports slots, mistakenly thought the polls opened at 6 a.m., and woke her friend, Helen DuBose, 58, at 4 a.m. to be prepared. Kincaid said they brought folding chairs, crossword puzzles and bottles of water.

"I've never seen lines like this," said Allison Pendell-Jones, 34, who lives in Ridgely's Delight.

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