The opportunity to vote in a highly charged presidential election and on several closely contested ballot questions drew Marylanders back to the polls Wednesday, keeping the state's early voting turnout on a record pace.
After a two-day break for Hurricane Sandy, polling places reopened to crowds that in some locations approached weekend levels, with waits of up to an hour and a half.
"I want to give the president another vote," Beatrice Greene said as she stood in a 45-minute line at the Public Safety Training Facility on Northern Parkway in Northwest Baltimore.
"I personally believe in the philosophy of less government," he said.
By evening, more than 73,500 voters statewide had cast ballots, bringing the three-day total to nearly 208,000 so far, according to the state Board of Elections. That was far ahead of the pace of the gubernatorial election of 2010, the state's first experience with early voting, when nearly 220,000 Marylanders cast ballots over six days.
Wednesday was the first day of voting after the storm. Gov. Martin O'Malley closed the polls on Monday and Tuesday, but directed elections officials to add another day of early voting on Friday, and to extend the hours polls are open.
Early voting centers now are scheduled to be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Friday. Elections officials have said it will not be possible to extend early voting beyond Friday because they need time to transition to regular voting on Election Day on Tuesday.
It was unclear whether or how Sandy might affect the election. Among the battleground states in the presidential vote, Virginia and Pennsylvania suffered the most damage, limiting the amount and type of campaigning the candidates may do there.
Romney, the Republican nominee, campaigned in Florida Wednesday. President Barack Obama visited New Jersey to survey the storm damage with Republican Gov. Chris Christie; the president planned to resume his campaign on Thursday with appearances in Colorado and Nevada.
In Maryland, voters are casting ballots not only for president but also on same-sex marriage, in-state tuition breaks for some students brought to the United States illegally as children, an expansion of casino gambling, a new congressional map and other issues.
Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College, said the effect of the storm on the election would be "negligible."
"There's absolutely no indication that early voting actually boosts turnout, so the fact that we lost a couple of days of early voting, I can't imagine it's going to be an issue at all," he said.
Deputy state elections administrator Ross Goldstein described turnout statewide Wednesday as "brisk." At the Bloomsbury Community Center in Catonsville, election judge Damon Taylor said, "It's been steady the whole day.
"People are just excited to have the opportunity to vote early," he said.
They included Richard Dean, who said he came out early to cast his vote for Obama.
"I definitely think it's going to be a close race," he said. "I don't know if my vote will make a difference, but I wanted to make sure I got to vote for the president."
At the St. Brigid's Parish Center in Canton, Randy Nichols was eager to vote on Question 6. Nichols, who is gay, said he wanted to help make Maryland the first state to approve same-sex marriage at the polls.
"I would not have missed this election," he said.
Pat Jenkins, meanwhile, said she had given same-sex marriage "a lot of thought" and decided to vote against it.