Long lines were found at polling places throughout Harford County Tuesday, as many residents said they had become energized by the presidential race and the opportunity to have their say on several controversial state ballot questions.
Elections officials at many precincts said they were astounded at the turnout, which many veterans of past elections said was as large as they’d ever seen.
By 7 p.m., some polling places around the county still had lines of people waiting to vote with an hour remaining until the polls closed.
County elections officials said they were not concerned they might have to stay open longer than necessary to accommodate those still at line, which would in turn could delay tabulating the results.
At several polling places around Bel Air, there were no lines as the polls closed at 8 p.m.
Immediately after 8, the county elections board's website posted the tally of more than 16,500 early votes, with Republican Mitt Romney receiving 8,364 votes, or 51 percent, to 7,710 votes for President Barack Obama, or 47 percent.
Among the more controversial state ballot questions, early voters in the county opposed Question 6, same sex marriage, by 54 percent to 44 percent, and Question 7 gambling expansion, by 59 to 41 percent.
“At this point at this election, there’s a lot of voters, and the turnout’s been great, and we don’t see that as unusual,” Kevin Keene, the county elections director, said around 7 p.m.
“It’s a big election, with the presidential election and all the ssues on the ballot,” Keene said. “Obviously [long lines] will delay things, and when the last vote is finished, we’ll start breaking down things.”
“We want to get them (results) back as much as everybody wants them back,” he added. “It’s kind of a competition, we want to get them back first.”
“We’re not getting a lot of phone calls or complaints about the lines or process, or anything of that nature,” Keene said. “I know the entire state is going through the same phenomenon.
Keene wasn’t anticipating any problems in getting the polls closed at a reasonable time and getting vote tallies back to the elections board’s headquarters in Forest Hill.
“It’s been pretty steady throughout the day, obviously this a busy time just like the morning.”
Regardless, he noted, “We don’t have additional people or machines to expedite the process.”
“There’s a lot of passion on the ballot this time, it’s a big electionthis time, it’s what we like to see,” Keene said. He also said they were expecting a final turnout of at least an 80 percent among the county’s 169,000 registered voters.
For many Harford voters, there were many important choices Tuesday, not just picking the next leader of their country.
Gretchen Hopley of Bel Air brought her daughter, Tennyson, with her to vote at Prospect Mill Elementary School around lunchtime Tuesday.
A regular voter, Hopley said "I want her to know whe has a say in the world, in how this world is run."
"And I want her to see my vote," Hopley said.
This election is particularly important for her family, Hopley said.
"Tennyson has two mommies. It's very important for us to vote for Question 6," Hopley said. "We want her to be part of this historic decision."
"I want to be able to tell her, 'You were there the first time we tried to vote for this,'" Hopley said.
Voting in general is important she said.
"I think we all have a role in deciding our futures. We all have different ideas what the future should be," Hopley said. "That's what makes it more interesting."
Besides the presidential race, the statewide ballot questions were drawing voters to the polls in Harford County in droves.
Scott Schlegel, the chief Republican judge at Prospect Mill, said voting was "heavy" all day, and he thinks it's the questions, not the presidential race, that's drawing the voters.
Schlegel has been working elections for 28 years, and likened this year's to the year of the gun ban in 1986 or 1988.
"When the polls closed at 8 p.m., there were 300 people in line," Schlegel said. "It might be that way tonight."
Even with 40 people waiting, the line to vote at Prospect Mill Elementary School moved smoothly around noon Tuesday.
It was the same way at most polls, where election officials were saying the crowds were larger than usual. It took about 30 minutes to get through the entire voting process at Prospect Mill, and by the time it was over, the lines were much shorter.
At Aberdeen Middle School, there was about a 30-minute wait to vote around 10:30 a.m., elections officials said.
There was also a long line of people waiting to vote at Jarrettsville Elementary in the other end of the county around 10:40 a.m.
The mid-morning lines followed what appeared to be a lull at some polling places following the first two hours of voting early Tuesday morning.
Harford County’s 75 polling places opened at 7 a.m. sharp, as presidential Election Day 2012 arrived across the United States Tuesday.
In Fallston, where the 7 a.m. temperature was 32 degrees and frost covered the farm fields, voters and came an went fairly quickly at Precinct 3-06 at Fallston Middle School during the first hour the polls were open. The sun was rising rapidly in a blue sky with a few white clouds.
Lisa Fresham-Wilson and Christopher Comeringer, the two election judges for the precinct, said they had already been pretty busy. At 7:30 there was about a 10-minute wait to sign in and get an empty voting station.
"We had a line outside when we opened," Comeringer said. "We've never had that before."
"So far it's gone very well, no probblems," he added.
By 8 a.m., the traffic in and out of the parking lot at Fallston Middle had died down considerably.
Under mostly sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-30s, campaign workers at four Havre de Grace precincts reported steady to heavy voter turnout first thing Tuesday morning.
They said the flow of voters began to slow as 9 a.m. approached.
At Prospect Mill, Rev. Ken Tipton and his wife, Vonnie are also regular voters, but said this year there's special interest in the presidential race.
Tipton, a "Ronald Reagan Republican," said the country appears to be split down the middle.
"It will be a close election. I have high hopes, but not high expectations," Tipton said.
Both Tiptons voted for same sex marriage and gaming in Maryland and proudly cast their ballots for Mitt Romney.
As many as 125,000 Harford residents, possibly more, are expected to come out and exercise their right to vote for President of the United States, as well as on several contentious state ballot questions and for their next representatives in both houses of the U.S. Congress.
There were a record 169,546 Harford residents registered to vote for this election.
The race between President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is the main draw for most voters.
Though the national race between the two is being rated a toss-up in many polls, Romney is expected to carry Harford comfortably.
Drawing as much interest as the presidential race in some parts of the county are statewide ballot questions on same sex marriage (Question 6), gambling expansion (Question 7) and in-state tuition rates for children of illegal immigrants who attend Maryland state colleges (Question 4). There is also a referendum that, if approved, will void the congressional districts drawn by the Maryland legislature last year and mandate that the redistricting be done over by the governor (Question 5).
There are eight proposed amendments to the county charter that Harford voters are also being asked to say “yes” or “no” on, although none of the eight is considered controversial. In fact, the Harford County Council earlier declined to follow the recommendation of its charter review board and place a council term limit amendment on the ballot, which likely would have fired up some interest among the voters.
Residents of the northern and central portions of the county are expected to vote overwhelmingly for their First District Congressman Andy Harris to have a second term in the House of Representatives. Harris, a Republican, has virtually no opposition. The Democrat whose name is on the ballot, Wendy Rosen, dropped out of the race but too late for her name to be taken off the ballot.
Residents of the southern portion of the county in the Second Congressional District will choose between incumbent Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat seeking his sixth term, and Republican Harford State Sen. Nancy Jacobs. A win by Jacobs would be a major upset, because the district, which includes parts of three other counties and Baltimore City, has a strong Democrat base, including in Harford, where Jacobs did not run particularly strong in winning re-election to her State Senate seat two years ago.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, is also seeking re-election, and is expected to prevail because of the statewide Democrat majority. Cardin is not particularly popular in Harford, however. His main opponents are Republican Daniel Bongino, Libertarian Dean Ahmad and independent Rob Sobhani.
There is one name on the Harford ballot guaranteed to come away a winner on Tuesday. Harford Circuit Judge M. Elizabeth Bowen won both the Republican and Democrat primaries last winter and thus appears on the ballot unopposed for a full 15-year term on the circuit bench.