As early voting continues for the April 26 primary, roughly 4.8 percent of eligible voters in Howard County had cast an early vote by Monday, according to turnout estimates by the state’s board of elections. Early voter turnout in the county is among the highest in the state, ranking fifth overall.
The turnout overall has been strong for a primary, said Howard County Board of Elections Director Guy Mickley. Voter turnout fluctuated between 1,639 and 2,310 daily since early voting opened on Thursday, according to estimates by the election board.
“I think we are going to end up with about 10 percent voted after early voting, which is about what I estimated,” said Mickley, who was stationed at the Bain Center the first few days of early voting.
Carole Fisher, a Hillary Clinton and Rep. Chris Van Hollen supporter who was at the Miller branch the first four days of early voting, said the turnout was surprising.
“I've been waiting 20 years for [Hillary] to run. I worked for her eight years ago when she was running against Obama and when he won, I signed on a couple days later. I'm a Democrat. It's what I do,” said Fisher.
By Monday, about 7,000 Democrats had cast votes in Howard County while Republicans cast around 2,400 votes, according to estimates by the elections board.
“The closer to 10 a.m. we got, the longer the line got,” said Christina Brown, who traveled from her home in Easton to work at the Miller Branch library early voting site in Ellicott City on Thursday.
“I normally help out in Caroline County, but they needed some extra help over here,” she said.
Early voting for Howard County residents continues through April 21. Residents can vote at the Miller Branch Library at 9421 Frederick Road in Ellicott City; the Bain Senior Center, 5470 Ruth Keeton Way in Columbia; or Ridgely’s Run Community Center, 8400 Mission Road in Jessup. Each center will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“There's a little more turnout initially than I would've expected for a primary election, but otherwise, it's going smoothly,” Mickley said.
“Usually, the first couple of days are a heavier turnout,” he said. “Then, the weekend falls flat on its face. You would think it would be opposite because it's the weekend, but historically, the weekend days are the lowest turnout. Then, you will see it slowly increase until the last two days and then it gets like the first two days.”
At the Miller Branch, a steady flow of voters continued throughout Tuesday, many of whom reported that the process was short and painless.
“There are shorter lines,” said Lois Hunter, of Ellicott City, who voted last week. “I was done in a minute.”
She and her husband, who are both retired, wanted to vote early, Hunter said, “to get it over with,” adding, “all the old people are voting now.”
Hunter, who is registered as an independent, she said, so she was not able to vote in the Republican or Democratic primaries. She came to vote because of the Howard County Board of Education election, which is a non-partisan race.
“That’s where your vote has the most kick, really,” she said.
Contested school board race
Unaffiliated voters can participate in nonpartisan primary elections, like board of education races. A little under 500 unaffiliated voters had voted as of Monday, according to estimates by the state election board.
In the school board race, 11 candidates are running in the primary for six spots in the general election and three seats on the board. Several candidates have been campaigning outside the Miller Branch and the Bain Center since early voting began.
Supporters for incumbents Ellen Flynn-Giles and Janet Siddiqui stood several feet away from challengers Christina Delmont-Small and Pravin Ponnuri, new candidates running for the school board.
“This year people seem to be particularly concerned about the board of education,” said Christina Delmont-Small, who began campaigning at the library at around 10 am on Friday.
“It’s very addictive,” said Ponnuri, who spent seven hours campaigning between election sites on the first day of early voting. “There’s a lot of camaraderie going on around here.”
Midway along the path opposite an entrance of the library, the incumbents set up camp.
“They certainly don’t have a corner on the ethics market,” said Cathy Zomlefer, an Ellicott City resident who supports Siddiqui. “They call themselves the ethics vote but I think that’s kind of a misnomer.”
“I’m thinking that the most experienced members will go up once again,” said Zomlefer.
Some voters, like independent John Secco, of Columbia, said the school board incumbents’ name recognition was a major advantage. Secco, 68, said he voted for the incumbents on a name-recognition basis, although he had several conversations with current Board of Education member Ann DeLacy.
However, Secco also said, “I’m not 100 percent on top of the race. ... Maybe I should be.”
Kirsten Coombs, a challenger running for one of the three seats on the school board, said voters are invested in the school board race — even if they do not have children in the school system.
“I think it actually has a level of interest that had not been there two or four years ago because they do see that something must be awry and that worries [them],” Coombs said.
On Thursday, candidate Mavis Ellis, a longtime public educator and school board candidate, spoke to voters outside of the Bain Center.
“I think it's been a great turnout,” she said. “It's a great day to have people voting. People have been agreeable to a large extent to talk about the issues. I've had some long conversations with people.”
The Howard County primary ballot also contains choices for the Republican and Democratic presidential and United States Senate race, and for the delegates to both parties’ conventions.
Peggy Parsons, of Ellicott City, said that she came to vote at the Miller Branch “for the president, of course.”
“I don’t even tell my husband or children who I’m voting for,” she said. “So they have to guess.”
Parsons, who has worked at Howard County General Hospital for 40 years, voted early because she has to work on April 26, the day of the Maryland primary.
“I wanted to dash right over here and get it done,” she said.
Bill Adams, of Ellicott City, voted early at the Bain Senior Center in the Democratic primary.
He said that he is supporting Van Hollen in the U.S. Senate race because, “I think he's been real effective as the senior Democrat.”
About the presidential race, he said, “I am a Bernie person. I definitely feel the Bern. I'm a regular giver and volunteer for Bernie.”
New to early voting this year is that eligible residents can register to vote, and voters who are already registered can make address changes.
Mickley said the Bain Center had handled five same-day registrations and address changes by noon on Thursday.
“We've had five same-day registration and address changes” Mickley said about the Bain Center, as of noon on Thursday. “We are doing well with it. It's a new process, but we are on top of it,” Mickley said. “I think it's great for the voters. If they haven't registered up to this point, they can walk in and register to vote. I think it is a good thing for the state of Maryland.”
Residents can register to vote during early voting by going to one of the locations, bringing anyone who wants to register to vote during the early voting period must have a document proving state residency, such as a driver's license, Motor Vehicle Administration-issued identification card or change of address card, according to the elections board. Paychecks, bank statements, utility bills or other government documents with the resident's name and current address will be accepted.
Registered voters can also make changes to their address if they have moved, officials said, by bringing the documents to an early voting center.
Same-day registration or address changes are only available during early voting and will not be available on primary election day, Tuesday, April 26.
—Fatimah Waseem and Lisa Philip contributed to this story.