Voters take to the polls in Howard County

Howard County residents are heading to the polls in large numbers to cast their vote on this year's local, state and national elections.

Long lines were reported at polling places throughout the county, especially during the morning hours.

"Nobody is missing this election," said County Executive Ken Ulman, during a campaign stop at Murray Hill Middle School in North Laurel.

County Board of Education candidate David Gertler, campaigning at Clarksville Middle School agreed turnout was high, and also said voters seem better-informed than usual, which he attributed to the much-publicized state ballot questions.

At Atholton High School in Columbia, meanwhile, election judges Roseann Rossell and Steve Fink said long lines in the morning indicated a busy day ahead.

"This is the biggest turnout we've had so far," said Rossell, who has worked the last eight elections at Atholton. "I think they'll be surprised at the board of elections. We've had a line all morning, it's been moving, but it's been a long line."

While some voters expressed mixed views about the tightly contested presidential election, almost all expressed the importance and contentiousness of the race.

"It was very close, and is obviously a very important election, may even be the most important election in my lifetime," said Art McCombs, 61, of Ellicott City. "There was a lot of negative campaigning on both sides, and, I think, like a lot of Americans, I was convinced of my candidate fairly early, so the negative campaigning didn't affect me."

Ammer Bekele, 45, of Ellicott City, is a registered independent who said he voted for President Barack Obama because he believes he deserves another four years in office.

"He needs more time to finish what he started," Bekele said. "Given what he started with, to expect him to complete anything in four years is unrealistic."

Jennifer Aumiller, 36, of Columbia, said it was a hard decision, but ultimately she voted for the incumbent.

"It's a hard job, and (President Obama) does a really good job," Aumiller said.

While most admitted the presidential election was a tough decision, there seemed to be little wavering from voters on the ballot questions — including Question 7, which, if passed, would allow casinos to add table games and the state to add another casino site, most likely in Prince George’s County.

"I'm against expanding gambling, because I don't think the money is earmarked for education," Mac Chryssikos, 68, of Ellicott City said outside of Mount Hebron High School.

"Who knows where that money will go?"

Outside of Murray Hill Middle School in North Laurel, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker were greeting voters and lobbying for Question 7.

"Question 7 is critical for Prince George's County and the state of Maryland," Baker said. "If we want to keep revenue in Maryland, we have to pass Question 7."

Baker said he was pleased to be working with Ulman, saying Ulman understands what expanded gambling means for Maryland.

"Your county executive would not support this is unless he though it was important," Baker said.

Ulman said he was pleased to see such a strong turnout at the polls.

"This morning there were long lines, so it's good to see people excited to vote," Ulman said.

The county's most hotly contested race is for school board, and the six candidates vying for three open seats all spent at least part of the day at the polls.

Incumbent Ellen Giles said she was feeling good about her chances.

"I think people want to build on the success we've made," she said. "They want to make sure our children are taken care of and their money is well spent, and that we're working for the future."

Challenger Gertler, at Clarksville Middle, said people want a school board that includes "cooperation, collaboration, and people open to hearing the issues and working intelligently to solve the issues."

Columbia resident Robert Vigorito, voting at Atholton, said Tuesday he thinks it is time for a change on the school board.

"I think we need to change the leadership and change the direction," Vigorito said. "We need new blood, new ideas, new creativity."

One of those new faces, if elected, would be Hickory Ridge resident Jackie Scott, who accompanied Ulman and Baker to Murray Hill Middle School.

Scott said having the support of both county executives as well as County Council members Calvin Ball and Courtney Watson is humbling.

"I am so deeply appreciative of people who have supported me by encouraging me and providing advice and guidance," Scott said. "That they think enough of me to lend their help is heartwarming."

Scott added that she was "really, really optimistic and totally energized" about the school board election. "I'm excited for tomorrow, and excited for our children."

Across the county, polls were to remain open till 8 p.m.

Reporters Blair Ames and Sara Toth contributed to this report.

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