The onset of in-person voting Thursday marks the final stretch of a frenzied political season in Maryland, which saw primary Election Day pushed from June 28 to July 19 as the parties battled over congressional maps.
Voters trickled into polling places across the state to weigh in on tightly contested statewide races within both parties for governor, attorney general and comptroller. Nominations for a U.S. Senate seat, eight congressional districts and a slew of local races are also being decided.
In the governor’s race, Republican voters chose between former state commerce secretary Kelly M. Schulz, who has the backing of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), and Del. Daniel L. Cox, a far-right conservative endorsed by former president Donald Trump.
Democratic voters for the state’s top spot had a larger field from which to choose, including former U.S. labor secretary Tom Perez, best-selling author and former nonprofit chief Wes Moore, state Comptroller Peter Franchot, former attorney general Doug Gansler and former U.S. education secretary John B. King Jr.
With a lot on the line, turnout among Maryland’s roughly 4.1 million registered voters was quiet at a number of early voting centers Thursday morning.
By 9 a.m., just 14 voters had turned up at Crofton High School in Anne Arundel County. At 11 a.m., the count at VFW Post 8950 Hansen Hall in Prince George’s County was 47. It was also 47 at the Urbana library in Frederick. By noon, 85 people had submitted ballots at the Activity Center at Bohrer Park in Montgomery County.
Election officials expect turnout in the primaries to be low. In the 2018 primary, which like 2022 had no presidential race, about 600,000 Marylanders voted, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.
Barbara Bush, 83, of Bowie, came to VFW Post 8950 with her husband just before 11 a.m. She had considered voting for Perez because she liked his experience but opted for Moore at the last minute.
“I decided I would give the young guy a chance,” Bush said. “He seems to be very energetic and ready to help seniors.”
Bush said she has not been very active in Maryland politics over the years, but “as we get older and need more help, we may get into politics a little more.”
Anya Olson, 17, was at Bohrer Park in the early afternoon to vote in her first election. She picked out four school board candidates who were in favor of more technical education for students: “I think that’s important, I’m not really sure everyone needs to go to college,” she said.
Those were the only choices she was eligible to make, though. Olson, who will be 18 by November, registered with the Green Party for her first election, ruling her out of voting for state candidates in the closed primary.
“I’m much more in favor of a multiparty system, not just two parties,” Olson said. “I think that leads to the current polarization that we’re having.”
She hasn’t yet weighed her options for the general election, but she’s worried about environmental issues and the Supreme Court’s ruling against the EPA, and said that’s been an afterthought for both Democrats and Republicans. “Hopefully, we can get one of the other two bigger parties to take more interest in it,” she said.
Jim Bronder, 73, was at the Urbana library early on the cloudy morning to campaign for county executive candidate Jessica Fitzwater but, unlike in previous election years, found few people to talk to. He chalked it up to the delayed election dates in the middle of the holiday season.
“I’ve been here before,” Bronder said of the library, one of Frederick County’s four early-voting centers. “There were streams of people coming in.”
Bronder, from New Market, voted by mail in the Democratic primary. He voted for Hogan in the last election but hopes to support his pick for the Democratic candidate this year, Perez, in November.
Bronder is particularly concerned about gun control after recent mass shootings. It even made him nervous to visit the polls. “Is somebody going to come down here with a rifle?” Bronder asked. “I never would have thought that my entire life, but this morning, I did.”
William and Sylvia Steelman, of Urbana, shared wide-ranging complaints about the Biden administration, such as high gas prices, and approved of Hogan’s tenure as governor in Maryland. They cast their votes in the Republican primary for Schulz.
“She’s against gun control,” said William Steelman, 80. “She’s for the average person. She’s got a good perspective.”
The Steelmans hope to support Schulz in November but would “probably” vote for Cox instead if he wins the primary — “they both have good ideas.” They settled on Schulz early, but the decision between the two candidates was close. “The world is such a mess right now,” Sylvia said. “Who do you vote for?”
Bobby and Pat Sikora, a retired couple who recently moved from Virginia to Maryland to be closer to family, declined to say whom they voted for as they left the Crofton High School voting location but said they were happy with the options available to them as Democratic voters.
“I just felt like we had some really good choices,” Pat Sikora said. The couple said they had no real objections to Hogan’s term as governor but would not vote for a Republican in the fall.
With tight races expected in a number of the contests, results may not be determined for several days after the election. Statistics provided by the Maryland Board of Elections show that about 500,000 voters have requested mail-in ballots. If a large number of voters choose to vote by mail, it could delay election results. By law, mail-in ballots cannot be counted until the Thursday after the election.
If voters were hard to find at polling places Thursday, candidates were not.
U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D), who represents Maryland’s 5th Congressional District, stopped by the Crofton High School voting center Thursday morning, where he restated his enthusiastic support for Moore’s candidacy.
“We need lifting up. We need inspiration. We need somebody who can give us a positive sense of government in a positive way, and I think Wes Moore can do that,” he said.
On Thursday, Moore launched a new 30-second ad airing digitally and on broadcast cable with his longtime friend Oprah Winfrey narrating. “This moment that we’re in demands a different type of leader. For governor in Maryland, you have one in my friend Wes Moore,” Winfrey says.
Hoyer said he was disappointed in the low turnout on the first day of in-person voting and hoped it would pick up. “People probably don’t know about it, but they’ll get word about it,” he said.
Shannon Leadbetter, a first-time GOP candidate running for Anne Arundel County Council, was also at Crofton High School. She too was hoping to see more voters but remained enthusiastic.
“I’ve had some thumbs up,” she said, smiling.
Schulz visited polling stations in Frederick and Montgomery counties to make a final pitch to voters. Noting the low turnout, she said her team was working hard to remind voters to show up on Election Day.
“It’s going to pick up,” Schulz said. “We’ll be busy reminding people to show up on July 19.”
Outside the voting center at Bohrer Park, Schulz cast herself as the only electable candidate in a primary race that drew added attention when Democrats channeled support to Schulz’s opponent, Cox.
“If it’s not me that gets elected in this primary, then Republicans will definitely lose by a lot in November,” she said.
Former congresswoman Donna F. Edwards, who is vying to return to Congress in Maryland’s 4th District, used the first day of early voting to announce growing support for her campaign. Edwards was joined by Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy at a polling station in Fort Washington to announce the endorsement. Edwards is locked in a tight battle against former state’s attorney Glenn Ivey for the seat.
At Hansen Hall in Prince George’s, Del. Nicole A. Williams (D) was one of several candidates waiting to make their pitch to voters.
“It’s pretty slow,” Williams said, “but I’m happy to be here.”
The quiet day was a bit of a reprieve for Williams, who had been chased by a pit bull while door-knocking in Bowie earlier in the week. She escaped unharmed.
“Luckily the owner called the dog back,” she said, laughing. “That’s the only thing that saved me.”
Early voting continues from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. through July 14. A full list of early-voting centers is available at elections.maryland.gov. The standard primary election is Tuesday, July 19, and polls will be open until 8 p.m.