Through out the day, Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery will capture the Election Day conversations at polling places around Prince George’s County, the nation’s wealthiest majority black jurisdiction. Check back in through out the day to hear what voters are saying as they cast their ballots.
Updated at 4:43 pm: By 11:05 a.m. 774 people had voted at Evangel Cathedral, a mega church in the heart of Prince George’s County. According to GOP chief election judge David Byrd, 683 had voted Democrat, 19 Republican, 48 independent, and there were 15 provisional ballots cast.
Maryland Delegate Marvin E. Holmes Jr., chair for the Democratic Caucus, said the line moved quickly at Evangel. The wait was about 10 minutes for Delegate Holmes. He said the lines seemed to move quickly at seven other polling stations he dropped by this morning, making sure volunteers had coffee. He thinks the polls will be more crowded with the after-work rush hour crowd this evening.
In contrast to reports of polling place problems in other jurisdictions, voting at many polling places in Prince George’s County was particularly efficient in the morning and early afternoon on Election Day.
Elsie Whited was leaving the poll at Evangel Cathedral with an “I Voted” sticker and a smile on her face. She said she voted for Obama. “It was very fast. The lines were perfect. I think the sweet spot is around 10:30,” she said.
At Rocklege Elementary in Bowie, 642 people had voted by 11 a.m., according to Chief Elections Judge Doris Mouser – 403 Dems, 151 Republicans, 77 other, and 14 provisional ballots had been cast.
At Bowie State, Kelsey Hobson, Diliorah Arah, and Emmanuel Lassiter, all freshman, were excited after voting for the first time.
“It was very interesting, because I just took part in history…history because we can keep him in there and maybe next time it could be someone of another ethnicity,” Arah said.
“Color shouldn’t matter,” said his friend Lassiter. “The country’s supposed to be a melting pot.”
“I think the White House should reflect that melting pot,” Hobson added.
“Turnout has been unreal,” said Bowie State University polling station worker Katherine McClusky as she directed individuals to the polls. Up until about 1 p.m., she said, a line had stretched from the polling station inside the gym, through a corridor and out into the parking lot. This was more than she had seen working that polling station in the 2008 primary and general elections and the 2012 primary. Shortly after 1 p.m., there was no line and voters breezed through.
“That wasn’t hard. It was quick and orderly. It took me less than five minutes,” said Lorraine Fortlage, who declined to disclose her choice for president or her choices for controversial ballot initiatives, such as Questions 6 and 7.
“This was far better than early voting,” said Fortlage, who initially considered casting her vote during early voting. She said when she went to vote at the Bowie Library the line stretched from the building out to Rout 450. “They said the wait was five hours. Who would wait in that line? I thought I would take my chances and go here. It wasn’t so crowded.”
“I wanted to be the first to cast my vote for President Obama,” she said – never mind 30 million who cast votes in the record-breaking early voting days this election.
“It’s critical. You can’t take anything for granted. We need to stay in support of our president,” said Mobley, who planned to transport friends and family members to their polls later in the day. “I feel that if Romney gets in there, it’s going to be hard for the middle class and poor. He’s not for us. If he gets in there, we’ll be in trouble.” She declined to share her positions on two of the most controversial ballot issues – Questions 6 and 7, gay marriage and expanded gambling to include a casino at the National Harbor.
Donald Marcus also was among the first 100 voters who arrived an hour before the polls would open at Evangel Cathedral. The sanctuary is in the heart of Prince George’s County, one of the nation’s wealthiest majority black jurisdictions. As one might expect, given the president’s strong support from African Americans, the mood about the national election was decidedly for Barack Obama.
“It feels really good to see all these people out here,” he said, making easy friends and conversation with the men standing next to him. He arrived early to get his vote in before reporting to work in Washington, D.C. They disagreed on Questions 6 and 7 – gay marriage and gambling — but generally agreed on supporting President Obama.
But not everyone was in the Obama camp, even in this strongest of strongholds. Jerry Clark, a former GOP chief election judge who worked the polls at Evangel Cathedral from 1996 through the last election, cast his vote for Romney shortly after 10 am. "I think we gave Mr. Obama a chance," said the lifelong Republican. "We gave him four years to straighten it out. In my opinion it's far from being straightened out. It's time for another change."
But most voters interviewed were firmly for the President. “This could make or break America,” said Raymond Bell, who had arrived at 5:30. “Romney, he’s only for the rich. People who have money want to keep it…my father taught me a long time ago...Why are you going to vote for somebody who’s going to keep you in a Volkswagon while they drive a Cadillac?”
Ronnie Thomas, standing next to Bell, explained his concerns. “I’m going back to school, and from what I understand Romney wants to do away with all of that. I really think there’s a lot at stake.”
There was also concern from some that Obama was held to a different standard during his four years in office because he is black.
Added Bell, “If Obama was white, he’d be the greatest president we ever had. He said ‘when I get in office, I’m going to get rid of the terrorist. He did. He got rid of Osama. They’re looking at the economy, but when he got in office, the Republicans said they were going to do everything they could to stop him.”
Marcus planned to support expanded gaming in Maryland, believing it’s best to keep gambling dollars in his state. Thomas planned to vote against Question 7, believing the social costs would be too high. Indeed, when Obama offered his support for same sex marriage earlier this year, many political observers thought it might hurt his chances with some black voters.
“I’m voting ‘no’ because of certain elements it would bring to the community, and I don’t think the money will go where they say it will,” Thomas said.
“Look at the people getting on buses to go everywhere else to gamble,” Bell said. “You’ve got people saving their money to go to Vegas. People are going to gamble anyway…why not keep that money home?”
Henry Jefferson arrived in the parking lot at about 4:30 a.m., he said, but he fell asleep in his car and a few others beat him to the line. Still, he was determined to cast his vote before going to work. “They’re saying it’s tight. You’ve got a lot of people trying to knock Obama down, saying he’s not the one for the job,” Jefferson said. “I think it’s a lot of race issues going on. How can you clean up in four years what’s been building for about 16?”
David Green, who chatted with Marcus and Prince, said his life has improved in the past four years. He was in the real estate business, but switched lanes when the market crashed. He began working with autistic students in Prince George’s County middle schools. Meanwhile, his two daughters graduated from college with degrees in mechanical engineering and landed corporate jobs n their fields.
“I’m here voting because I don’t want it to seem like a fluke that he won the first time,” Green said. “I want it to be in the discussion that he’s one of the greatest presidents of all time. He won’t be in that discussion if he doesn’t win a second term. I think Jimmy Carter was one of our greatest presidents, but he’s not in the discussion because he didn’t win a second term.”
By 8 a.m., a line snaked and doubled in the lobby at Evangel Cathedral, and curved around the building outside. The Chief Election judge Gloria Moore, who also worked that polling site four years ago, said the turn-out this Election Day appeared heavier than before – but she would not have the first official turn-out count by 10 a.m.
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