Early returns from a busy day of voting in Harford County Tuesday showed Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney with a comfortable lead over President Barack Obama, while the three most controversial statewide ballot questions were soundly rejected. Those trends didn't change much as the votes from more precincts were counted.
Long lines were found at polling places throughout Harford Tuesday, as many voters 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 the time the polls closed at 8 p.m. and the last precinct reported its results shortly before midnight, 119,444 of the 159,968, nearly 75 percent, of those eligible to vote had cast their ballot. Still to be counted are provisional and absentee ballots, which will be done in coming days.
By 7 p.m., with an hour remaining until the polls closed, some polling places around the county still had lines of people waiting to vote.
County elections officials said they were not concerned they might have to stay open longer than necessary to accommodate those still in line, which in turn could delay tabulating the results.
At several polling places in the Bel Air area, there were no lines as the polls closed at 8 p.m.
The general consensus at polling places across the county throughout the day was that voters were coming out in record numbers, a possible result of so many controversial issues on the ballot.
Harford residents at the polls said they were mostly against legalizing same sex marriage in Maryland, no matter their political party affiliation. While there appeared to more of a divide on expanded gambling, one early indicator suggested that might not be the case.
Immediately after 8 p.m., the county election board's website posted the tally of more than 16,500 early votes, with Republican Romney receiving 8,364 votes, or 51 percent, to 7,710 votes, or 47 percent, for Democrat Obama.
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.
With 76 precincts out of 79 reporting just before midnight, Romney's lead had widened to slightly more than 58 percent, while Question 6 was losing by a 56-44 percent margin and Question 7 by a 56-44 percent margin.
Question 4, the so-called Dream Act, providing children of undocumented aliens with in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities, was also trailing in Harford by 59 to 41 percent.
Neither the Obama-Romney numbers or the state ballot question numbers in Harford were reflective of statewide numbers, however, particularly in the presidential race where Obama carried Maryland, or on Question 6, same sex marriage, which was expected to pass.
Of seven proposed amendments to the county charter also on Tuesday's ballot, all seven were willing approval, though the seventh, to remove a two-year restriction on county council members taking government jobs following their council service, was closer at 61-39 percent.
First District Congressman Andy Harris, a Republican whose district includes central and northern Harford, easily won a second term over token opposition.
Returns from Harford and elsewhere in the Second Congressional District showed incumbent Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger well ahead of his Republican challenger, Harford State Sen. Nancy Jacobs. In Harford, Ruppersberger had 53 percent to Jacobs' 44 percent.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, was also seeking re-election, and prevailed because of the statewide Democratic majority. Cardin is not, however, particularly popular in Harford, and early vote totals in the county reflected this. Cardin finished second in Harford behind Republican Daniel Bongino and ahead of Libertarian Dean Ahmad and independent Rob Sobhani.
One name on the Harford ballot guaranteed to come away a winner Tuesday was doing just that. Harford Circuit Judge M. Elizabeth Bowen, who won both the Republican and Democratic primaries last winter, appeared on the ballot unopposed for a full 15-year term on the circuit bench. She received close to 99 percent of the vote.
"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.
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 a big election, with the presidential election and all the issues 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.
"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 election this time, it's what we like to see," Keene said. He also said they were expecting a final turnout of at least 80 percent among the county's 169,000 registered voters.
There were a record 169,546 Harford residents registered to vote in this election.
Not much activity outside
Despite the high turnout, there was an obvious lack of electioneering outside most polling places around Harford.
Cardin supporters were present at Havre de Grace High School, Obama supporters at Havre de Grace Elementary School and Rev. Lenard Potts, with Helping Hands Ministries in Churchville, spoke out against same sex marriage at Aberdeen High School.
Patrick McGrady, chairman of Harford's Republican Central Committee, reported that everything was going well for his party at the polls Tuesday.
"We're working hard to make sure we get over the finish line," he said. "The Republican turnout is very exciting."
Around 6 p.m., he said the Jacobs and Bongino races were still tight and Harris seemed "pretty safe" for re-election.
McGrady also felt confident about the state ballot questions, saying, "We need to defeat these O'Malley, liberal referendum items."
Over at the Democratic Central Committee, chairperson Wendy Sawyer also felt good about how her party was faring in the election.
"I'm very happy about what we're seeing so far," she said. "I'm seeing love everywhere in the county."
Sawyer also commented on the high turnout and said she felt Obama had "a leg up on Romney as far as the electoral college map."
Full election coverage will continue to be provided Wednesday morning and beyond at http://www.exploreharford.com and http://www.baltimoresun.com. Aegis Executive Editor Ted Hendricks and correspondent Hafiz Rashid contributed to this article.