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Commentary: Times change, elections change, we all roll on

BY ALLAN VOUGHT, avought@theaegis.com

1:30 PM EST, November 9, 2012

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To the best I can determine, The Aegis has been covering presidential elections since 1860, which means this year's election was the 38th the paper has covered in some form during its long history of service to Harford County.

Of course, the county has changed in the ensuing 152 years, right along with the times and our nation, and how The Aegis covers and reports on these elections obviously has changed right along with them.

I began writing this column on Monday, the day before Election Day, with the idea I would be finished and wouldn't need to comment on the outcome Tuesday. Well, forget that. Things went pretty much as I expected in Harford County – Republican sweep, so to speak, and strong votes against the meaty statewide questions like same-sex marriage and gambling expansion. No surprises that the county went strongly for Mitt Romney over President Obama. I'm mildly surprised, however, that Obama won as easily as he did nationally.

Everyone at the polls Tuesday seemed to be talking about the high turnout and long lines throughout the day. Some said they had never seen so many voters, but in terms of percentages, this supposed record or near record high turnout may have been an illusion.

There are more voters in Harford registered than ever – nearly 160,000. There were at least 10,000 more people eligible to vote in Harford than in 2008. Right away that should translate into more people voting in terms of raw numbers.

With absentee, foreign and provisional ballots yet to be counted, the turnout county early voting and in person voting Tuesday was 75 percent in Harford. Overall, it might reach 80 percent once those outstanding ballots are counted, perhaps a big higher. Tuesday saw a good turnout at the polls, though not an extraordinary one in terms of percentage of votes cast.

I had an e-mail the other day from a former colleague, Linda Siemon McLean, who wrote: "I can't believe it's been 12 years since we were all huddled around the TV watching the tight race between Bush/Gore."

Of the 10 previous presidential elections I have covered during my time at The Aegis, that 2000 Bush - Gore squeaker ranks in the top two or three for excitement and sheer interest, both for me and, I think, for a lot of the people who read The Aegis.

The fact that in those days the paper was left open and not printed until there was a result makes this one hard to forget, in fact, because we eventually had to pull the plug and let her go to the pressroom - without having any idea who won.

Two other elections that come to mind for me in terms of being memorable are 1972 - Nixon and McGovern - and 1980 - Reagan and Carter - though not strictly because of the candidates for president.

The 1972 election was my first working for the paper and the first presidential election I covered. But, as much as was at stake in that election, with the Vietnam War still at the forefront, there was a lot at stake locally, as well, because the same ballot contained a local referendum on charter government and elections for all the new charter offices - county executive and county council - in the event the charter passed.

It was also the first presidential election in which I was old enough to vote. I remember standing in line for what seemed like hours waiting to vote at the old Bel Air Elementary building on Gordon Street, during which time I must have seen every local candidate at least twice standing outside the polls. There were plenty of people working the polls for the two presidential candidates that year, perhaps more so than what we see 40 years later.

The Reagan - Carter election is notable for a couple reasons. Even though Harford voters had reliably been voting for Republican presidential candidates since 1940, I think the Reagan landslide, both nationally and locally, helped usher in the era of Republican dominance in Harford's local politics.

The irony of the GOP ascension locally in 1980 was that it also coincided with the defeat of Congressman Bob Bauman, mired in a gay sex scandal involving a 16-year-old male prostitute. Before the scandal broke, Bauman, who had represented Harford in Congress, was as popular as any Republican in 20th Century Harford County.

Moving ahead and back at the same time, I wanted to first point out that the first election I can document that was covered by The Aegis was the Lincoln - Breckinridge - Bell - Buchanan election of 1860, almost six months before the attack on Fort Sumter that started the Civil War. My colleague Bryna Zumer wrote last year that Lincoln did not do well in Harford, which was a divided county on the issue of slavery but considered pro-union/anti-secession nonetheless. Four years later, however, Lincoln became the first in a long line of Republicans to win handily in Harford.

This year, our coverage of the presidential election has had some similarities with the past and many key differences. In the Internet age, and with our printed editions coming out of a large plant in Baltimore with many other papers to print, we didn't hold the Wednesday edition for the results. Instead, used our http://www.exploreharford.com website that many of you are familiar with to provide those results as quickly as we could get them from the elections office. And, today, we rely on the Internet to get the returns – no more employing a team of reporters and family members to shuttle the returns from the elections office to our office.

Finally, if you are looking for precinct-by-precinct results from the county inside Friday's paper, you won't find them. For the first time in eons, we made the decision to forgo them in print. With a record 79 precincts and with the multitude of ballot questions, we simply don't have the manpower to produce them or the space to run them any more. You'll be able to get same information online at http://www.harfordvotes.info/.

Such is the world of the modern presidential election, which changed quite a bit since a couple of thousand Harford residents essentially voted for anyone on the ballot but Abraham Lincoln in 1860. A lot has changed for us at The Aegis, too.