Early voting underway in Harford

About 15 to 20 people were lined up outside the entrance to the gymnasium at the William N. McFaul Activities Center in Bel Air before the polls opened on the first of eight days of early voting in Harford County Thursday morning.

“I came out to vote to support our candidates, because we need good candidates,” Bel Air resident Bob Stone said as he waited.

Registered Democratic and Republican voters can cast ballots in their parties’ respective primaries during early voting, which lasts through June 21. Primary election day is June 26.

Voters will be selecting their party’s nominees for local offices such as county executive, County Council, sheriff, state’s attorney, clerk of Circuit Court, register of wills, two Circuit Court judges, state delegates and senators and the Democratic and Republican central committees.

Also on the ballot are candidates for governor and other statewide offices, U.S. Senate and U.S. representative, including the First and Second congressional districts that represent Harford.

Candidates and their supporters stood or sat outside the McFaul center in the sunny weather amid a forest of campaign signs. They waved to or greeted voters as they entered and exited the gym. McFaul Center is one of four county early voting sites and historically has drawn the biggest voter turnout during the eight days.

Stone said he expects a tight state’s attorney’s race, as there are four Republican primary candidates competing to be the nominee who will face Democrat Carlos Taylor in the November general election.

Forest Hill resident Gilbert Hash said he wanted to get voting out of the way, adding “there’s not that much to vote for, [just] the standard Republican line.”

He had not yet decided whether he would vote for incumbent Republican County Executive Barry Glassman or his opponent, County Councilman Mike Perrone.

“I’ll make that decision in there,” he said, indicating the polling place.

Hash said he is voting “just to show support” to candidates.

“Even if they’re running unopposed, they still need to have that vote that says somebody’s supporting them,” he said.

Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler chatted with people outside McFaul gym, as he and state Sen. Linda Norman were the first voters.

Gahler, a Republican who is unopposed in this year’s primary, is running for a second term leading Harford County’s primary law enforcement agency. He voted for himself, he said later.

Norman said she also voted for Gahler, “and I’m not in the race.”

She is the widow of Sen. H. Wayne Norman Jr., who died suddenly in early March. The Bel Air resident represented District 35, which covers northern and central Harford and western Cecil County, in Annapolis and was seeking a second term this year.

He had been unopposed in the Republican primary. The Maryland Republican Party named Jason Gallion, of Level, to be on the ballot.

Linda Norman was nominated by the party’s central committees in Cecil and Harford counties to fill out the remainder of her husband’s term ending in early 2019.

Gahler encouraged people to come out to vote, either during early voting or on primary election day.

“Every vote counts, we’ve seen that more and more,” Norman said. “It looks pretty good so far. “I hope it continues.”

Steady stream of voters

There were 130 voters in the first hour, Jackie Ludwig, the chief election judge at McFaul Center, said around 11 a.m.

“It’s remaining steady, and we always have at least one or two voters at the polls,” she said. “We haven’t had a vacant room yet.”

The Harford County Board of Elections provided two shuttle vans to transport voters who parked in the nearby Bel Air Motor Vehicle Administration lot. The McFaul lot will not be available for voters, unless they need disabled-access parking spaces, until 1 p.m. during the week, but people can park in the MVA lot and take a shuttle or walk to the activity center — there are no sidewalks along the short access road from the MVA to West MacPhail Road, but they are available along MacPhail.

Richard Siejack, a polling place manager for the Board of Elections, said the agency provides the shuttle service each year during early voting at McFaul. He has worked for the elections board since 2014.

There were about two to three riders per trip, Siejack said. Many voters also walked to the polling place.

“A lot of people take advantage of the nice sunshine,” he said. “They’ll park down there [at the MVA] and walk.”

Luellen Mack, of Abingdon, took a Harford Transit bus, which stopped at the McFaul Center. She met her second cousin, Patrice Brown, of Joppa, at McFaul. Brown said she took the shuttle from the MVA.

“It’s a good service to offer on a beautiful day,” she said.

Both women said they wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to vote early.

“Why wait until the last minute?” Mack said.

Both voted the Democratic ticket. From a voter registration standpoint, Harford County is solidly Republican, with only one Democratic elected official, state Del. Mary Ann Lisanti.

The Democrats have candidates in every local race, although the majority are unopposed in the primary.

“The unopposed candidate is qualified to an extent by the work that they’re doing and by the fact that they’re the only one showing up on the ballot,” Brown said. “At the same time, it simply means that every citizen that that candidate is serving, should be paying attention to what that candidate is doing.”

Friends Denise Lynch, of Bel Air, and Rhonda Payne-Rothe, of Abingdon, were in line to vote to ensure their voices were heard through the ballot.

“I vote early because if tomorrow, I walk out in the street and get hit by a car, I want to make sure,” Lynch said.

Both voted Democratic — Lynch described herself as “totally liberal” — and they view the local election as a way to take a stand against the national political climate.

Payne-Rothe said she is “embarrassed, and I’m scared” about the state of the nation under Republican President Donald Trump, especially after he enacted tariffs against long-standing U.S. allies in North America and Europe.

The president received 58.2 percent of the vote in Harford County in 2016, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections website.

“You’ve got to … do what you can and try to pick candidates that are going to do what’s good for their constituents,” Payne-Roth said.

Lynch said she thinks many local leaders “are going in the same direction that our national leaders are going.” Republicans have a majority in both houses of Congress, and the ideological divide between them and congressional Democrats seems to be among the nation’s population as well.

“If there were moderate Democrats, if there were moderate Republicans that could possibly work, but there seems to be no middle ground,” she said.

During early voting, the polls will be open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. People can vote at the McFaul Activity Center at 525 W. MacPhail Road in Bel Air, the Edgewood Library at 629 Edgewood Road, the Aberdeen Fire Department at 21 N. Rogers St. and the Jarrettsville Library at 3722 Jarrettsville Road.

avought@theaegis.com

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