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News Maryland Howard County Laurel

Voter turn out drops in contested City Council election

Although all seats were contested in the Tuesday, Nov. 5, Laurel City Council elections, turnout was nearly half the number of voters in the 2011 city elections.

Of the city's 16,065 registered voters, 1,033, about 6.4 percent, cast ballots this year.

That total includes 106 people who took advantage of early voting on Nov. 2, and another 99 absentee ballots that were issued, according to Board of Elections Clerk Kim Rau. The absentee ballots were to be counted on Wednesday, Nov. 6, and the Board of Election Supervisors is scheduled to formally present the results at a City Council meeting on Thursday, Nov. 7.

In past city elections, voter turn out has been as low as 700, and in the 2008 council elections, only 3.4 percent of eligible voters turned out.

In the 2011 elections for mayor and council, nearly 11 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in a race that included three people seeking the mayor's office, and two competing for the at-large council seat; the races in Wards 1 and 2 were uncontested.

After a slow start in the morning and afternoon, voter turnout picked up Tuesday evening at both polling places, the Robert J. DiPietro Community Center and the Laurel Municipal Center.

"It was steady all day but has picked up after work," Gwendolyn Boyd, chief election judge for Ward 2, said around 5:30 p.m.

According to Boyd, the turnout spiked from 291 to 330 between 4 and 5:30 p.m. at the DiPietro Community Center. As of 4:30 p.m., there were approximately 306 votes cast at the Municipal Center, according to Ward 1 Chief Election Judge William Wellford.

Among those who voted at the Municipal Center in the late afternoon was Pauline Drakes, who said she was voting in her first election since moving to Laurel 33 years ago.

"I never knew who to vote for," Drakes said.

Drakes said she came out to support the incumbents running on Team Laurel after hearing Ward 1 incumbent Valerie Nicholas speak at City of Zion Church.

"She was very professional," Drakes said of Nicholas, who formed a ticket with fellow Ward 1 incumbent H. Edward Ricks against challenger John Mathew Smith.

"I believe she practices what she preaches," Drakes said.

Ward 1 voter Doug Hayes, a 26-year resident of the city, said he is a regular at city polls and wanted to support at-large incumbent Michael Leszcz, who faced off against at-large challenger Adrian Rousseau.

"I know Mike and I know how dedicated he is," Hayes said.

While Hayes supports Leszcz, he decided to vote against Leszcz's running mates on Team Laurel and voted for Smith as the Ward 1 representative.

"I liked some of the things that he said," said Hayes. "I think new blood is needed."

At the community center, 40-year resident Bill Ellis and his daughter, Athena, turned out to support the Ward 2 incumbents, Donna Crary and Fred Smalls, who ran against Ward 2 challenger Thomas Matthews.

"The team has done well I think," Ellis said.

As night descended on both polling locations Tuesday, candidates and volunteers from both factions were still posted in the parking lot handing out fliers and championing their respective causes.

Leszcz, Nicholas and Ricks were campaigning outside the Municipal Center with a small group of volunteers, while campaigners for Rousseau and Matthews were vocally supporting their candidates. At the community center parking lot, Rousseau and Matthews, who was on a megaphone, were campaigning while Crary and Smalls were waving and holding signs near the entrance to the lot.

Denise Johnson, who works the front desk at the community center, said about four or five voters were lined up outside the door when polls opened at 7 a.m.

"They are coming, going and voting," Johnson said in a cheerful voice around 8 a.m. "I'm here to cheer them up."

Scott Dye, who has lived in Laurel for 33 years, said he is a regular voter in city elections.

"I think the council and mayor do an excellent job," he said after voting at the community center.

Laurelton resident Earlene Murphy, who has lived in her Ward 2 neighborhood for 13 years, said she regularly votes in primary and general elections for statewide and national office, but was voting in nonpartisan city elections for the first time. Murphy's daughter, Shanika Goldsberry, was also voting for the first time.

"Things have happened in our community," Murphy said. "There are changes — more crime — I'm hearing about it in the news. You have to go out and vote for the ones that will listen to you."

Denise Johnson, who works the front desk at the community center, said about four or five voters were lined up outside the door when polls opened at 7 a.m.

"They are coming, going and voting," Johnson said in a cheerful voice around 8 a.m. "I'm here to cheer them up."

Scott Dye, who has lived in Laurel for 33 years, said he is a regular voter in city elections.

"I think the council and mayor do an excellent job," he said after voting at the community center.

Laurelton resident Earlene Murphy, who has lived in her Ward 2 neighborhood for 13 years, said she regularly votes in primary and general elections for statewide and national office, but was voting in nonpartisan city elections for the first time. Murphy's daughter, Shanika Goldsberry, was also voting for the first time.

"Things have happened in our community," Murphy said. "There are changes — more crime — I'm hearing about it in the news. You have to go out and vote for the ones that will listen to you."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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