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Primary Election: Turnout light at Laurel precincts

Chonya Johnson, a Laurel resident that ran for the District 1 school board in 2010, was in Laurel campaigning for another school board candidate today: Zabrina Epps.

"I was originally working with (school board candidate) Mike McLaughlin," Johnson said as she greeted voters in the parking lot of Oaklands Elementary in South Laurel Tuesday. But after McLaughlin announced he was withdrawing from the race, Johnson said, she switched her support to Epps, who is an academic advisor at the Community College of Baltimore County and lives in the Patuxent Greens neighborhood of South Laurel.

"I'm impressed with what she's bringing to the table," Johnson said, citing Epps' experience with budgets and working with students. She said supporting Epps was "a no-brainer."

In the 2010 primary, Johnson finished third behind incumbent Rosalind Johnson and newcomer David Murray, who is now her primary competitor as he is running a second time. Rosalind Johnson went on to win re-election in 2010, but is not seeking the seat for another term.

Turnout by mid-day continued to be light at Laurel precincts, which allowed campaigners to spend time bending the ears of the few voters who parked and walked their way.

But the light turnout didn't stop Epps from saying she "felt good" about the primary.

"I'm a newcomer, I've rallied support from city and state elected officials," she said. Among her supporters, Epps said, are Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, and she was recently endorsed by The Washington Post.

In a primary election where "there's no real big challenges," turnout is expected to be light, an election judge said in explaining the slow trickle of voters at the Robert J. DiPietro Community Center on Cypress Street in Laurel this morning.

"We got about 150 people so far," Lester Ham, one of two chief election judges at the polling site, said at 10:15 a.m. "By this time last (election), we had about 300."

Polls for today's presidential primary election opened at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

After casting her vote at the community center shortly before 10 a.m., Barbara Trigeiro said "the turnout was very low so far," but she noted it was early. She added: "Everything was very well organized as usual."

Deena and Ray Groshong commented on how "easy" the voting process was. Ray Groshong said they expected things to be slow after 10 a.m. and that's why they came at that time.

Asked if they came out for a specific race, the couple said "no."

"Just our duty to vote," Deena Groshong said. The couple declined to say who they voted for.

Tracy Johnson was also drawn to vote by the feeling it is her civic duty.

"I just wanted to do my part," she said, noting if you don't vote, "you can't complain."

Having previously voted at the community center, Johnson said she was surprised she "got in and got out" so quickly.

"It's always a line or crowded," she said.

Johnson, a Democrat, said she voted for President Obama, and even though he's running unopposed, she's proud of her vote.

"I have much respect for him and I think he's doing a great job," she said.

Though this primary is probably not too exciting for Democrats, who are the majority in Laurel, Prince George's County and most parts of the state, Republicans have a reason to go to the polls. For the first time in recent history, Maryland voters will have a say in choosing the GOP presidential nominee.

Laurel Republican Harold Billingham said he went to vote at the community center because of the presidential race, in which he voted for Rick Santorum.

"I think he's one of the more conservative candidates and his advocating of moral values impressed me," he said.

Overall, Billingham said the voting process was "good" and the poll workers were "very helpful." He also commented on how few people were at the community center.

Candidates in Laurel

The slow turnout, however, did not deter District 1 school board candidate David Murray and a volunteer for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Anthony Muse's campaign from greeting the few voters who headed in to cast their ballot at the community center. Murray said he plans to spend all day there.

"This is one of the biggest (precincts)," Murray said to explain his strategy. "So I can personally meet, hopefully, as many people as possible."

Murray said Laurel's community center is the third-largest precinct in District 1, behind Bond Mill Elementary and the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department, both of which he said he won "by a lot" in 2010, when he narrowly lost the school board race to incumbent Rosalind Johnson. He is hoping this year his presence at the community center will help him do well against challenger Zabrina Epps in a precinct where he said he "didn't fare as well" last time. A third candidate is on the primary ballot for District 1 school board, Mike McLaughlin; however he has announced his intention to drop out of the race in support of Epps.

"Slow; pretty slow," is how College Park resident Kevin Coreas, who was alone outside Laurel Elementary at 8 a.m., where he was planning to work all day campaigning David Murray, described the volume of voters in the first hour polls were open.

At the time, Laurel Elementary had less than a dozen cars parked in the lot, and clearly most of those cars belonged to the poll workers and election judges inside the school's multi-purpose room.

Coreas, a senior at High Point High, said it was the first time he had campaigned outside polling places on election day, and that he had just gotten to know his candidate when he added him to his Facebook page.

"He's a pretty nice guy," Coreas said of Murray. "He has a good chance."

The ballot will include candidates for the following positions: U.S. president, U.S. senator from Maryland and, depending on where you live in Laurel, congressional representatives, District 1 Prince George's County school board candidates, Circuit Court judges and delegates to the Republican or Democratic National Convention.

This story has been updated. Check back throughout the day for updates and election results.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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