Early primary voting gets underway in Montgomery, Prince George's counties

Voters in Md. get a head start on the crowds as early voting begins in Prince George's County.
By Michael Laris and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 4, 2010

Maryland's experiment with early voting started Friday -- with a trickle.

At polling sites in Silver Spring and Landover, candidates and campaign workers outnumbered voters throughout the day, making their final appeals to the first live bodies in what has essentially become a rolling primary.

Old-fashioned primary day, with voters lining up at neighborhood schools and other polling places, is still Sept. 14. But five voting centers in Montgomery County, five more in Prince George's and others throughout the state will be open again Saturday, as well as Monday through Thursday next week. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The centers will be closed Sunday.

The goal was to make it easier for people with inflexible jobs, child-care emergencies, out-of-town plans -- or just spotty memories -- to vote. Political infighting had long blocked the idea. But it became a reality Friday, and Nancy Gaynor, a retired sales manager from Bethesda, was pleased. She will be in Laguna Beach, Calif., seeing her son on Sept. 14.

"I get back between 4 and 5, but you can't count on that," Gaynor said. The registered Democrat said she split her local ballot between current members of Montgomery's County Council and newcomers. "I'm not at all anti-incumbent. I choose who I think is doing a good job," she said. "I do think it's a thankless job. Half the people love you; half the people hate you."

By 1 p.m., just 123 Montgomery County voters had joined Gaynor in casting ballots at the new wood-and-glass civic building in Silver Spring. In Prince George's County, about 200 voters had cast early ballots by midday at the Wayne K. Curry Sports and Learning complex in Landover.

That languid pace held throughout the day, with somewhat greater participation in Prince George's. By 5 p.m., about 2,000 people had cast ballots in Prince George's, which has 514,000 registered voters, according to county Elections Administrator Alisha Alexander. In Montgomery, with more than 621,000 registered voters, the tally at that hour was 1,009.

Early-voting fans

Proponents said they hoped the first day of early voting marked the beginning of a transition from what at times can feel like a frantic civic chore.

At earlier points in American history, there would "be almost like a carnival-type feeling. It would go for days, and people would drink rum," said state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), who is running unopposed. "Maybe we could go back to the vision of voting as . . . a celebrated activity. People should have a sense of pride and pleasure in voting."

In Prince George's, no incumbent is running for county executive, state's attorney or sheriff, promoting a flurry of aggressive campaigning. Signs cluttered intersections, and campaign workers were coming on strong. Elaine Morris, 90, said she hoped taking advantage of early voting, and getting her prized "I voted" sticker, might help drive away those pesky poll workers.

Deborah Mitchell, a research analyst from Lake Arbor, barely made it out of her car before she was approached by a candidate who gave her a handful of materials. "This is good," Mitchell said. "This is the first time this particular process has been offered, and I can really take the time to think about who I wanted to vote for."

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and his wife, Katie O'Malley, took a break Friday afternoon from moving their daughter, Tara, to college at Loyola University to cast their ballots at a North Baltimore polling station.

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