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More voted than ever before in Harford Tuesday, but percentage lags behind '08

ElectionsGamblingMitt RomneyLocal Government

With more than 16,500 early voters and the highest number of registered voters in Harford County's history, polling locations had large turnouts Tuesday for the 2012 presidential election and tradition held with the county going for the Republican, Mitt Romney, with 58 percent compared to 39 percent for President Barack Obama.

Yet, despite appearances of crowded polling places, the percentage of those who turned out may still not be what it was four years ago.

This year, 119,444 votes out of 159,968 registered were cast early or on Election Day, a 74.67 percent turnout. The first two absentee ballot canvasses Thursday brought the total voting to 123,732, or 77.3 percent.

Harford's turnout for the 2008 presidential election was 82.67 percent, when 123,710 people voted out of 149,651 registered. Those totals include all votes counted from the polls and absentees.

More absentee and provisional ballots from Tuesday are still left to be counted — Nov. 14 and 16 — but they will do little other than change the total number of votes cast. Volunteers counted 4,281 absentee ballots Thursday. Results from Tuesday's count did not alter any of the results from Tuesday.

In 2008, 5,196 absentee ballots were counted the first day, 2,864 the second for international voters and 1,203 provisional ballots were counted.

Harford Elections Director Kevin Keene called the turnout "pretty good," but said it he doubted it will reach 2008's percentage. Numerically, however, more people voted in Harford this time, he noted. Total registration was 10,000 higher this year.

Harford, a typically conservative county, picked the Republican candidate for all contested offices on the ballot with the exception of incumbent Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger in District 2.

Ruppersberger, who won the county precincts in his district with 53 percent, and fellow District 1 Congressman Andy Harris, 70 percent, were the only candidates the majority of Harford chose that also won the entire state.

Nearly 37 percent of Harford County voters chose Republican Dan Bongino over Democratic incumbent Ben Cardin, who earned 34 percent of the vote.

State ballot questions

When it came to controversial state ballot questions, the county, again, voted against the questions and against the majority who voted in the state.

Question 6, which legalizes same-sex marriage, Question 7, which expands gambling in Maryland, and Question 4, the so-called Dream Act, were all voted down in Harford, but approved by the majority of the state.

About 56 percent of county voters were against Question 6.

The measure, which will allow couples of the same-sex to marry beginning Jan. 1, was approved statewide with 51.9 percent of the vote.

Question 7 will allow the state to build a sixth casino in Prince George's County and table games, such as poker, will be allowed at all locations. The permitted number of slot machines will also increase from 15,000 to 16,500.

The county voted against the measure at a 53-47 percent margin, while the state approved it at 52-48.

The sixth casino also had to be approved by voters in Prince George's county in addition to the state.

Harford voted down Question 4 with 59 percent against it. The majority of the state voted it in with 58 percent.

In what is commonly known as the Dream Act, some children of undocumented immigrants will be allowed to pay in-state tuition at Maryland colleges and universities. The students will be required to attend at least three years at a high school in state and graduate or earn a GED. Students' parents will also have to prove they have filed state tax returns during those years.

Harford County, as well as the state, approved the four other state ballot questions: Questions 1 and 2, requiring judges for the Prince George's and Baltimore County so-called "Orphan's Court," which oversees estate cases, to be admitted to the Maryland Bar; Question 3, which states lawmakers, such as a mayors or county council members, will be immediately removed from office after being found guilty of a felony; and Question 5, which upholds the state law that redrew Maryland's congressional districts.

County charter amendments

All seven amendments to the Harford County charter were approved, most by wide margins.

The only measure that was relatively close was Question B, allowing county council members to apply for a position with Harford County Government as soon as they leave office, eliminating the long-required two-year waiting period. It passed by a 53-47 percent margin.

Other county charter amendments to be approved are: changing the definition of a pending zoning case for the board of appeals to allow council members, who also serve as the board, to discuss matters with the public that could potentially become a zoning matter; extending the county executive's deadline to submit the annual budget to the council to April 15 after the state budget has been finalized; those filling the vacancy of the county executive before the end of a term will be of the same political party as the immediately preceding county executive; public notices will be required to be posted in one newspaper widely circulated in Harford County and on an official website, such as Harford County Government; expanding the county's redistricting commission to represent more political parties; and changing the list of personnel who can be fired at will to be consistent with the pay and classification plan.

Political parties

Before 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Dark Horse Saloon in Bel Air the mood was hopeful at the Republican Central Committee's party.

Hosted by Del. Donna Stifler and Sen. J.B. Jennings, the party drew about 60 to 70 attendees, all anxiously watching the results come trickling in on the newscasts.

Harford County Councilman Joe Woods was celebrating with a small group of people.

"It's been a long day going to all the polls," he said. Woods goes to as many polling places as possible every election.

He was "really impressed" with the turnout, adding that the line at Fallston High School was out the door and around the building, taking voters up to 30 minutes to reach the actual machines.

"Everybody was talking about Romney, even the Democrats," Woods said about his time at the polling locations. "Across all the polls, the amount of people just mad at Obama is unbelievable."

Woods voted for Romney because "defense is critical to us," he said. "Our community relies on APG."

He feels the military won't be as strong with Obama as president for a second term and that could prove to be detrimental with another base realignment expected for Harford County in the next few years.

"That's what's going to make Harford County stronger," Woods said.

Just caddy-corner across Main Street the Democratic Central Committee was holding its party at headquarters.

Albeit a smaller crowd, the 15-20 people huddled around a TV and eating were incredibly enthusiastic, cheering when a state was projected to go in Obama's favor and booing when it was projected for Romney.

Committee chairperson Wendy Sawyer commented on the "remarkable turnout of volunteers" that night, calling it "so refreshing and rewarding."

Sawyer voted in Edgewood as she has done for the past 40 years.

"I never had to wait to vote before," she said. At 7 a.m. right as the polls opened, 30 people were waiting in line.

"I'm sad the public discourse has gotten to the point where it's really dirty intimidation," Sawyer said, referring to reports across the country about voter intimidation in minority-heavy neighborhoods. "I thought we left that behind with the Civil Rights act."

When the reports came in on the TV that Obama was projected to win Pennsylvania, the crowd erupted with cheers.

Smith comments on Question 6

Havre de Grace Councilman Joe Smith, Harford County's only openly gay politician, was also at the Democratic party Tuesday night. Wednesday afternoon he said he was there until about 1 a.m.

"It was such a good night," he said, "We were all pretty elated."

When Smith heard the news that it appeared same-sex marriage would pass in Maryland, he stayed calm.

"I immediately thought of my partner," he said. Smith described the feeling as having someone recognize your value, an affirmation. "An entire state has affirmed that our relationship is something to be valued."

With the election over, the councilman is looking forward to moving onto business that affects all citizens, he said, "and trying to figure out how to improve the city."

On a personal note, Smith and his partner are planning to become a legally married couple "as soon as possible in January" with a larger celebration in the fall, just in time for their 25th anniversary.

Aegis correspondent Hafiz Rashid contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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