Election Line Forecast: Wear Comfy Shoes

By Rosalind S. Helderman and Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 30, 2008

Expect lines at polling places Tuesday, advises Prince George's County Elections Administrator Alisha L. Alexander.

A record-breaking 497,661 people have registered to vote in the county this year, and Alexander said she is predicting 85 to 90 percent of those will turn out. If she is right, that would mean about 130,000 more votes would be cast this year than in the 2004 presidential election.

Lines began to form this week. At some points Monday, Alexander said, the wait was 1 hour and 25 minutes at the Board of Elections office in Upper Marlboro, where voters had gone to submit absentee ballots.

"We've never seen anything like this before," Alexander said. "The volume of absentee ballots is unprecedented. . . . I think this may be a precursor to Election Day."

She said voters could help speed the process Tuesday by reading up on the nine state and local questions on the ballot and deciding how they plan to vote before arriving at the polls. She also advised going to the polls with a patient spirit. Those who arrive near the 8 p.m. closing time should expect to be in line into the evening, a possibility she said election workers are prepared for.

"My prediction is there will be many polling places where people will be voting well past 8 p.m.," Alexander said.

Terry Speigner, chairman of the Prince George's Democratic Central Committee, said the committee will have volunteers at every polling place. They plan to encourage waiting voters to read ballot questions and prepare their votes, so they can spend as little time as possible in the booth. Democrats account for almost 78 percent of the county's voters.

Speigner said he hopes the waits will be no longer than 90 minutes to 2 1/2 hours on Election Day, but he anticipated that they could be longer.

"I would suggest that people plan for the worst case and be pleasantly surprised if it doesn't happen," Speigner said. "Wear comfortable shoes, bring some water. If you have a portable chair, bring it. And bring your umbrellas: We don't know what the weather will be."

Higher Guidance Is Goal Of Election Eve Vigil

Perhaps, as the presidential campaign comes to a close, a moment of contemplation is in order.

That's what County Council Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) and his wife, Donna, seem to think.

The two are organizing a prayer vigil to be held on the eve of the vote. In an e-mail to friends and supporters, the two write that the event is intended to ask that God's will be done on Election Day.

According to the e-mail, the couple held similar vigils the night before Dean's two County Council elections.

"We will pray, have congregational singing, share a word . . . all as the Lord leads," they write. "Thereafter, we will leave uplifted for the work of the election on Tuesday, November 4th."

All are invited to the event, the e-mail indicates, which will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. Monday, at Faith Missionary Baptist Church, 9161 Hampton Overlook in Capitol Heights.

School Board Member Alone in Campaign

Amber Waller is running a lonely campaign for her at-large school board seat, but she's perfectly happy that way: She'll be unopposed on Tuesday's ballot.

Waller, a longtime community activist from Hyattsville, is already something of an incumbent. She took office in September 2007 after filling the vacancy left by Nathaniel B. Thomas, who resigned. County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) picked Waller from a pool of 39 candidates who had applied for the nomination.

This time around, though, not a single person rose to challenge Waller in either the primary or the general election. That was an improvement over the 2006 school board election as well, in which she lost to Heather Iliff in the District 2 race.

Waller took office vowing to make community involvement a cornerstone of her term and said that's still her highest priority.

"Since I've been on the board, I've been actively engaged in the board to ensure that we put the necessary tools in place through training, and different things, coming together, to make sure our students are able to graduate from high school and are prepared for success," she said.

Her other priorities, Waller said, are increasing graduation rates, strengthening business partnerships with the school system, raising test scores and improving vocational education programs.

In the meantime, her campaign, such as it is, is fairly low-key. She showed up at a summit on student violence Monday to talk to youngsters. Most of them are not old enough to vote, but they are the center of her job, she said.

"I stop young people wherever I am, and I listen to them," she said. "I feel like I've reached out to a lot of young people in visiting the schools. It's campaigning, but it's not campaigning. It's good to sit behind a desk, but you need to get out here and talk to people. . . . I listen to people. I'm on call 24 hours a day, whenever somebody needs me."

After Tuesday, Focus Shifts to 2010 Races

There's always another election.

Even as most folks' attention is focused on Tuesday's presidential election, some are already thinking about the next go-around -- in 2010 -- when major local offices will be up for the taking.

State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey and former state delegate Rushern L. Baker III held fundraisers last week. The two Democrats, and good friends, are considered likely candidates for county executive in 2010, when term limits will force Jack B. Johnson (D) from office.

Baker held a birthday bash Friday, celebrating his 50th with about 325 friends. Although he has not said formally that he is running for the county's top job for a third time, Baker spokesman Alexander Krughoff said the event brought in about $75,000 to support future efforts. Campaign finance reports are not due until January, but Krughoff said that the report will show that Baker has raised at least $370,000, enough to pay off debts from his unsuccessful 2006 challenge to Johnson.

Ivey held a more intimate house party last week with Realtors, land-use lawyers and others involved in development. His spokesman said he raised about $3,500 at the event from people happy with Ivey's efforts to combat fraudulent lenders.

Ivey, who attended the birthday event for his friend and possible future rival, said he hasn't raised the $370,000 taken in by Baker. But Ivey's efforts are going fine, he said, and he has no debts.

"I think it's going pretty well, especially given the economy," Ivey said. "We're on the pace I think we should be on."

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