Early record for early vot­ing

With three days to go, 500,000 in Md. have al­ready cast bal­lots

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Yvonne Wenger

Mary­lan­ders shat­tered the state’s ear­lyvot­ing record Mon­day af­ter more than 500,000 peo­ple cast bal­lots in five days.

And there are still three days left in this year’s early-vot­ing pe­riod.

Vot­ers are mak­ing a choice in the hotly con­tested pres­i­den­tial race be­tween Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton and Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump. Can­di­dates for the U.S. Se­nate, House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and lo­cal of­fices are also on the bal­lot. If trends con­tinue, 800,000 Mary­land vot­ers will cast bal­lots ahead of the Nov. 8 elec­tion.

Early-vot­ing cen­ters are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Thurs­day.

In 2012, when the state record of roughly 430,000 early bal­lots was set, early vot­ing spanned five days. This year, early vot­ing will last eight days and there are 20 more polling places than four years ago.

Early-vot­ing cen­ters are also stay­ing open two hours longer this year, said Nikki Baines Charl­son, deputy ad­min­is­tra­tor at the Mary­land State Board of Elec­tions. She said no sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems have been re­ported.

Del. Samuel I. “Sandy”Rosen­berg, a Bal­ti­more Demo­crat, said open­ing ear­lyvot­ing cen­ters for more days and longer hours should al­le­vi­ate lines on Elec­tion Day and the pres­sure on vot­ers to make it to their polling places on a sin­gle Tues­day.

“This is es­sen­tial,” Rosen­berg said. “Early vot­ing is a part of a trend of ex­pand­ing the fran­chise, en­abling more peo­ple to vote, women, African-Amer­i­cans.”

Rosen­berg helped push for more early vot­ing af­ter the 2012 gen­eral elec­tion, the first time it was of­fered dur­ing a pres­i­den­tial con­test.

Po­lit­i­cal ob­servers pre­dicted the high early turnout this year. They say that as the elec­torate be­comes more fa­mil­iar with early vot­ing, turnout should rise. The con­tentious matchup be­tween Clin­ton and

Trump also is con­tribut­ing to the surge, as is the rare open U.S. Se­nate seat and Bal­ti­more’s may­oral elec­tion.

But Todd Eberly, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at St. Mary’s Col­lege, said early vot­ing is un­likely to com­pel more peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate.

Re­search shows it pulls from the num­ber who will go to the polls on Elec­tion Day, he said. More than 2 mil­lion peo­ple voted in Mary­land on Elec­tion Day four years ago, when Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was elected to a sec­ond term.

Eberly said early vot­ing has been shown to re­duce turnout in some places, in part be­cause it re­duces a sense of ur­gency some feel when they have just one day to vote.

Adding same-day reg­is­tra­tion on Elec­tion Day could boost turnout, he said. Al­low­ing peo­ple to sign up to vote and im­me­di­ately cast a bal­lot gives cam­paigns a chance to mo­bi­lize mar­ginal vot­ers, but some are con­cerned the prac­tice could lead to voter fraud.

In Mary­land, same-day reg­is­tra­tion is of­fered dur­ing early vot­ing but not on Elec­tion Day. Vot­ers who want to sign up dur­ing early vot­ing must pro­vide a doc­u­ment to prove res­i­dence, such as a driver’s li­cense or pay­check.

About 125,000 peo­ple came out last week on the first and sec­ond days of early vot­ing — de­spite long lines that kept some wait­ing more than an hour. The num­ber slipped to about 80,000 on Satur­day and to about 74,000 on Sun­day, the fourth day of early vot­ing. A to­tal of 102,617 voted Mon­day, when lines were again present at some polling places.

Matthew Cren­son, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity, said he can think of few draw­backs to ex­tend­ing early vot­ing, ex­cept one: the “Oc­to­ber sur­prise,” the re­lease of last-minute in­for­ma­tion that could sway the out­come of an elec­tion.

Early vot­ing started in Mary­land, for in­stance, be­fore FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey an­nounced last week in a let­ter to mem­bers of Congress that the bureau is look­ing into a new batch of emails that could be re­lated to Clin­ton’s use of a pri­vate server.

Cren­son said some may feel dis­ap­pointed af­ter vot­ing early that the re­lease of ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion can­not fac­tor into their de­ci­sion.

“Peo­ple feel very strongly about this elec­tion,” said Cren­son, who has helped Democrats in get-out-the-vote ef­forts. “This is an elec­tion of very stark con­trasts.”

Vot­ers in Mary­land will send ei­ther Demo­crat Chris Van Hollen, Repub­li­can Kathy Szeliga or Green Party nom­i­nee Mar­garet Flow­ers to the Se­nate. The win­ner will suc­ceed Demo­cratic Sen. Bar­bara A. Mikul­ski, who is re­tir­ing af­ter 30 years.

Eight House mem­bers also will be se­lected. And a host of lo­cal po­si­tions are on the bal­lot, too.

In Bal­ti­more, vot­ers in the may­oral con­test will choose be­tween Demo­crat Cather­ine E. Pugh, Repub­li­can Alan Walden and Green Party can­di­date Joshua Har­ris. For­mer Mayor Sheila Dixon, a Demo­crat, is among those wag­ing a writein cam­paign. Bal­ti­more vot­ers will also se­lect a comp­trol­ler and 15 mem­bers of the City Coun­cil.

In Howard County, lo­cal school board mem­bers are on the bal­lot.

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