As election nears, Howard's party leaders amp up get-out-the-vote efforts

What are Howard County's political parties doing to get voters to the polls?

It was Saturday morning, and most people were still at home eating breakfast, reading a newspaper or, perhaps, sleeping in. Shoppers at Columbia's King's Contrivance Village Center were scarce; sometimes several minutes would slip by before someone would walk into the Harris Teeter grocery store there.

That didn't deter Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.

Coffee and bagel in hand, the Democrat, who is running for lieutenant governor, stood outside the store greeting passersby and reminding them to get to the polls.

"Retail is sometimes a challenge," Ulman admitted, but "this is the time in the campaign when we're just going hardcore, trying to talk to as many people as possible."

Voter turnout is a concern for candidates from both parties this year. Without the lure of a presidential candidate at the top of the ticket, there's always a concern that voters just won't be enticed enough to cast a ballot.

"There's no excuse for not getting out to vote, but there are a lot of people that traditionally only vote in years where there's a presidential election," said Loretta Shields, chair of the Howard County Republican Party.

This time around, driven by a sense of "momentum," the party is targeting those voters, she said. "We want to get Allan Kittleman elected county executive and Larry Hogan elected governor, and the only way to do that is to get voters to turn out."

Shields and the Republicans are also taking on another tradition: the tendency on the part of many in their party not to vote early.

"Republicans are notorious not to early-vote," Shields said. "Everybody loves to vote on Election Day."

She said she'd rather have as many Republican votes in the bank as possible before Nov. 4.

"Then I don't have to worry about getting those voters out," she said. "Nov. 4, it could snow, it could rain, you could have a terrible accident on the Beltway."

Abby Hendrix, who chairs Howard County's Democratic Central Committee, echoed Shields: "Our goal is to try to reach out to as many Democrats as possible to make sure they get out to vote."

This year, the central committee is working in conjunction with state Democrats to spread the word. Hendrix said Howard Democrats were joining with volunteers for gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown, attorney general candidate Brian Frosh and County Executive candidate Courtney Watson, as well as any state and local campaigns that wanted to join, to phone bank and canvass throughout the county.

"We chose this year not to work in isolation," Hendrix said, noting that in the past, central committee members had coordinated their own efforts independently of the state party. She attributed the change to a new roster of central committee members elected in the June primary.

"I think we are really invested in our local races and really want to see Howard County voters be invested in local races, because it does impact the lives of voters in Howard County," she said.

Both party leaders said they had seen an increased interest in volunteering during the final weeks leading up to the general election.

Saturday morning, the Democrats held an "Every Vote Counts" rally at their Columbia campaign office on Stanford Boulevard that drew about 150 volunteers.

"One thing we did notice these last two weeks is more people are coming out and saying how can I help?" Shields said.

In addition to manpower, the parties have also been investing money in the get-out-the-vote effort.

A campaign finance report filed Oct. 24 by the Republican Central Committee shows the party with $44,388 to spend, a figure that includes a $9,300 infusion of funds from Hogan's gubernatorial campaign.

The report shows the Republicans so far have spent about $1,500 on rent, utilities and supplies for a new office, which opened on Chevrolet Drive in Ellicott City in August; as well as $2,650 in polling for Allan Kittleman's campaign, $4,000 for a new website, $2,100 in yard signs for candidates Bob Flanagan and Jody Venkatesan and $5,000 for campaign mailers.

An October finance report was not available for the Democratic Central Committee on the state Board of Elections' site, but Hendrix said the party raised about $5,000 in the last cycle, which "brings us up to a little over $10,000 on hand."

She said the state Democratic party was helping Howard Democrats fund the coordinated campaign office on Stanford Boulevard, "which allows us to be able to focus on literature and be able to focus on our get-out-the-vote rally and for election night to have a watch party."

The party also maintains a permanent office on Oakland Mills Road "to make sure that we're visible throughout the year," Hendrix said.

Thursday night, the Democrats plan to inject a little celebrity glamour into their efforts with a non-partisan voter turnout rally in Symphony Woods headlined by rapper and Howard County resident Biz Markie, who is best known for his 1989 hit, "Just A Friend."

Ulman, meanwhile, has found his own way of making his incessant get-out-the-vote tour fun: while out sign-waving along the side of the road on a recent morning, he asked an aide to play "All I Do Is Win," by DJ Khaled, on repeat.

As the chorus hits, Khaled sings "Every time I step up in the building, everybody's hands go up! And they stay there."

Ulman's hands did, too.

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this story.

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