Polls opened in Laurel at 7 a.m. today, with parking lots full and voters greeting a cool morning, with temperatures below freezing.
At Laurel Woods Elementary, the lines were long and 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 thought it 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.”
District 1 Board of Education candidate David Murray was outside the Phelps Center with volunteers electioneering for support.
“It’s been going very well, I’ve seen a lot of familiar faces and have a lot of support,” Murray said. “I’m feeling pretty good and am getting positive reports. I’m grateful for all the support.”
Early voting turnout
For more than 12 percent of voters in Prince George's County and slightly more than 16 percent of voters in Howard County, Election Day came early as those voters took advantage of early voting, which was extended an extra day after Superstorm Sandy closed down the early voting sites for two days.
According to the Maryland State Board of Elections, 69,929 of Prince George's County's 568,617 eligible voters cast their ballots during early voting, and in Howard County, 30,463 voted during last week’s early voting sessions.
Guy Mickley, director of the Howard County Board of Elections, said the turnout is the highest recorded in Howard County by far.
Polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
What's on the ballot
In addition to the presidential race, voters today will have a number of local issues they will be deciding.
County school board races will be the most closely watched local decisions, with the county executive, statehouse and County Council election still two years away.
Two candidates are running for the District 1 seat vacated by Prince George's County school board member Rosalind Johnson: Zabrina Epps and David Murray.
Epps, who lives in Laurel, is in her first race for school board, while Murray, a Bowie resident, is running for a second time, having lost to Johnson in the general election two years ago.
Johnson, who had earlier decided not to run for re-election, resigned from her seat last month after admitting she had moved out of her district.
In Howard County, there are six candidates vying for three open spots on the board and there will be at least one new face on the board, since incumbent Allen Dyer lost his bid for re-election in April’s primary.
Incumbents Janet Siddiqui and Ellen Giles are trying to retain their spot on the board, while David Gertler, Ann De Lacy, Jackie Scott and Bob Ballinger are looking to serve for the first time.
Voters also will see a handful of county-specific questions that are mostly asking for votes for or again charter referendums for building bonds. But more attention has been given to seven statewide ballot questions, including two much-debated questions, one addressing same-sex marriage and another expanding gambling.
A vote for Question 6 would allow same-sex couples to marry in Maryland beginning Jan.1.
A vote for Question 7 would allow casinos to add table games and the state to add another casino site, most likely in Prince George’s County.
Question 4 asks voters whether they approve of undocumented immigrants, who have graduated from a Maryland high school, becoming eligible for in-state tuition rates at state community colleges. Question 5 asks voters to approve the new congressional districting plan, which was already challenged in federal court, but upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.
Dependent upon where they live, voters have one congressional race they will be deciding.
Most Laurel residents in Prince George's County will for the first time cast a vote for District 4 candidates, after the new congressional districting map moved them out of Rep. Steny Hoyer's 5th District. Democrat Donna Edwards is the incumbent, and is being challenged by Republican Faith Loudon and Libertarian Scott Soffen.
North Laurel voters who lives in Howard County's District 3 have the option of Democratic incumbent John Sarbanes or Republican challenger Eric Knowles. Libertarian candidate Paul Drgos Jr. is also running in the district.
Finally, Laurel voters will be casting a ballot for the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Ben Cardin. Cardin, a U.S. Senator since 2007, is challenged this year by Republican Daniel Bongino and Independent Rob Sobhani.
Dean Ahmad is the Libertarian candidate for Senate.