D.C., Maryland Primary Day 2010: Busy day at polls expected

Voters in D.C. cast ballots Tuesday in the closely watched Democratic primary race for mayor between Adrian Fenty and Vincent C. Gray.
By Mike DeBonis, Miranda S. Spivack and Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hundreds of thousands of voters in Maryland and the District are expected to vote under blue skies Tuesday, casting ballots for chief executives, legislators and other local officials.

The balloting is the final test for elections officials debuting a host of equipment and procedures. In the District and Maryland, residents were able to cast early ballots without excuse for the first time -- an innovation that has attracted tens of thousands of voters and is expected to ease lines on Election Day.

Election officials in the District as well as Prince George's and Montgomery counties are warning that because a large number of voters are expected to cast absentee and provisional ballots, close races might not be determined for days.

The District has also debuted new voter technology, including voting machines and networked electronic poll books. And in perhaps the biggest question mark, the District for the first time will allow unregistered voters to register and vote on the same day.

The main attraction in the city is a heated Democratic mayoral race pitting incumbent Adrian M. Fenty against the D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray. Also on the Democratic ticket, council member Kwame R. Brown (At Large) and former council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. are leading contenders to replace Gray. Democratic voters will also cast ballots in a citywide council race and in four ward races, as well as contested elections for congressional delegate and statehood representative.

Elections officials said Monday that more than 22,000 voters had cast early ballots through Saturday at five sites across the city, and voting inside, by all accounts, has gone smoothly considering the scope of this year's changes.

After the 2008 city primaries, a set of faulty returns led to confusion at elections headquarters. Officials are promising a careful review of the tallies. Before issuing results, staff members from the elections board will compare electronic tallies to printouts made at the voting precincts. The first returns are expected about 9 p.m., with an unofficial final count completed before midnight.

That doesn't necessarily mean that winners will be declared. The anticipated glut of provisional ballots, which are subject to review by the elections board, means official tallies could be delayed for days. More than one-tenth of early voters cast provisional ballots. If the trend holds and turnout is similar to that of the last mayoral primary, in 2006, about 10,000 could be cast. In similar primaries, provisional ballots have rarely accounted for more than 1 percent of the vote. The board will not rule on provisional ballots until Sept. 22. More than 5,500 absentee ballots have also been requested.

The mayoral and at-large council races are expected to be particularly close. Although Fenty has trailed Gray by double-digit margins in recent polls, a proven get-out-the-vote operation and strong early-voting returns have both campaigns expecting a tighter result. In the council race, a Washington Post poll found relatively little-known shadow Sen. Michael D. Brown (D) ahead of three-term incumbent Phil Mendelson (D), leading to speculation of name confusion with another council member, Michael A. Brown (I). Mendelson and allies have embarked on a crash effort to inform voters about the identity issue.

Elections officials declined to predict whether a mayoral winner is likely to be declared by Wednesday morning. "We are in the business of counting votes, not forecasting elections," said Paul E. Stenbjorn, the election board's technology chief.

About 1,800 poll workers will staff the city's 143 precincts, which open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. For more information, call (202) 727-2525 or visit http://dcboee.org.

Prince George's

Prince George's County officials are girding for a busy day Tuesday as voters at the county's 223 precincts choose a new county executive, County Council, sheriff, state's attorney, school board and General Assembly representatives, and fill down-ticket local posts.

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