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Big wins, long lines mark Election Day in Laurel

By Ellen Fishel and Luke Lavoie

8:59 AM EST, November 7, 2012

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Minutes after polls closed Tuesday night, as people began to trickle into the District 21 Democrats' election results watch party in Laurel, Del. Ben Barnes was already optimistic.

"It will be a good night for Maryland Democrats," he said.

And as numbers came in, Barnes' prediction came true. The party saw victories in all the issues it was pulling for, from the presidential election to the same-sex marriage, Dream Act and gambling referendums.

The crowd at Red Sky restaurant, which included Barnes, Sen. Jim Rosapepe and delegates Barbara Frush and Joseline Peña-Melnyk, as well as winning school board candidate Zabrina Epps, continually erupted into cheers as election results came in.

"We've come a long way, baby," Frush said on the possibility of Maryland being the first state to have a popular vote in favor of same-sex marriage.

For Frush and other District 21 Democrats, Tuesday's results at the polls represented continued progress for the state.

"We're very progressive," Frush said, explaining she also campaigned strongly for Question 7 — a measure to expand gambling and allow a casino to be built, most likely, at National Harbor in Prince George's County, which ultimately passed.

The state Dream Act, or Question 4 on the ballot, which will allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities provided they meet certain requirements, was the first referendum to pass on election night.

"Everyone has put in so much work, it has to pay off," Peña-Melnyk said. "It's just the right thing to do."

In addition to campaigning heavily for the Dream Act, Peña-Melnyk was chosen to cast one of Maryland's 10 electoral votes, which went to President Barack Obama. She said she appreciated Obama's grass roots campaign style.

"He has a good operation … he deserves four more years," she said. "At the end of the day, honestly I think he will be seen as one of the greatest presidents in history when people look back."

Others were also excited about Obama's reelection and what it means for the state. Obama is more committed to key investments such as health care and education, Rosapepe said.

"It's very good news for Maryland," he said. "We've got a shot at continuing economic recovery."

But while the politicians could agree on support for the president, not all shared the same views on the gambling expansion. Frush called National Harbor "a beautiful place for a casino," but Prince George's County Council member Eric Olson wasn't so convinced.

"I just don't think it's the right thing for the county," he said. "I think we need to focus on sustainable economic development."

But others, such as Frush, were in favor of the measure, saying it will bring in revenue for education.

"People who are trying to make you believe the money won't go into education are pulling a fast one," Frush said.

For Frush, who helped work on the Civil Rights Act when she worked with former Rep. Jim O'Hara, the election night victories signified an important step in equality for all.

"Nobody is free until everybody is free," she said. "That's always resonated with me."

‘Expected to be much better’

Laurel resident Jason Papanikolas, former chair of the Prince George’s County Republican Central Committee, said he was “truly disappointed that the president was narrowly re-elected,” and that he expected the Republican candidates “to be much better.”

“I keep hearing from Marylanders of all stripes that they are tired of a single political party running this state,” Papanikolas wrote in an email Wednesday, adding that “they still cannot bring themselves to change course.”

Papanikolas said he doesn’t think the county will see an improvement on the national level in the next four years, because Obama has “not shown the ability to work across the aisle in the last four years and Republicans will continue to control the House.”

Long lines

Election Day in Laurel began with crowded parking lots and long lines when polls opened at 7 a.m.

At Laurel Woods Elementary, things were a "little tense" in the first hour after election officials asked voters to move to a different line, according to one voter.

Voters at Laurel Elementary were waiting about a hour in line, after an early-morning rush that had a line out the door. And nearly all polling locations in Laurel continued to have lines of voters after 5 hours of being open.

Close to noon, some Prince George's County elected officials were in Howard County outside the polls at Murray Hill Middle School in North Laurel. Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker III joined Howard County Executive Ken Ulman in greeting voters and advocating for Question 7.

"Question 7 is critical for Prince George's County and the state of Maryland," Baker said. "If we want to keep revenue in Maryland, we have to pass Question 7."

Baker said he was pleased to be advocating with Ulman, who he said understands what expanded gambling means for Maryland.

"Your county executive would not support this unless he though tit was important," Baker told voters.

Ulman said he was pleased to see such a strong turnout at the polls today.

"This morning there were long lines, so it's good to see people excited to vote," Ulman said. "Nobody is missing this election."

At the Phelps Center on Montgomery Street, Chief Election Judge Gabby Araiza said the line has been out the door and around the corner all morning.

"We came here at 5:30 this morning and there were already 10 people in a line outside," Araiza said.

Araiza said crowds this large are expected for presidential elections.

Laurel resident Karen Deychak, 57, said the two difficult ballot questions were question 6 and 7.

"I was torn on gay marriage because of my religious beliefs," Deychak said.

Deychak said expanded gambling also posed a moral dilemma for her.

"My first thought was, I don't support gambling," Deychak said. "But if it can keep money in the state instead of going out of the state, that's a good thing in this economy."