With a local judicial race, a couple of congressional nominations and the Republican presidential nomination hanging in the balance, Harford County voters will have something to decide if they bother to show up at the polls for today's presidential primary election.
Most of the interest in the primary locally can be summed up in a handful of races: the Republican nomination for president, the Harford Circuit Court election and primaries for Harford's two congressional seats, one for the Democrats in the First District, covering the central and north areas of the county, and one for the Republicans in the Second District, which includes Aberdeen and Havre de Grace and the remainder of the southern third of the county.
Harford's 75 polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The county elections board added 10 new voting locations since the last election in 2010.
Shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday, the polling place at Bel Air Elementary School on Lee Street looked like a ghost town, with a couple dozen yard signs lining the walkway the polling station's version of Boot Hill.
There were no candidates or poll workers standing outside to greet voters or to wave to passing motorists, the street parking lot was nearly empty and only a single person was observed entering the building over a 15-minute period.
Ninety minutes later, Susannah Goldsberry stood outside by herself handing out literature for Wendy Rosen, a Democrat running for Congress in the First District.
"It's pretty quiet," Goldsberry said with a cheery smile, as she stood in the bright sunshine mindful that she didn't have any competition for the attention of the few voters who were trickling in to the parking.
Actually, Goldsberry added, she had seen more people coming into Bel Air Elementary than she had at her polling place in the southern part of the county.
Contest for the black robe
The judicial race is the one with arguably the most at stake locally, both for voters and candidates alike.
Circuit Judge M. Elizabeth Bowen, who was appointed to the bench in January by Gov.Martin O'Malley, is being challenged by H. Edward Andrews and Steven Scheinin, two frequent, albeit unsuccessful, candidates in years gone by.
Voters in both parties can cast ballots for any one of the three. If one candidate wins in both primaries, he or she will be unopposed in the November general election. The full judicial term is 15 years.
It's rare for a sitting judge like Bowen to be defeated — in Harford it's only happened once before in modern times, in 1954, and never since the elections became limited only to voters in Harford County. (Prior to the 1960s, judges in the circuit that includes Harford and Baltimore counties had to run in both counties.) It's equally rare for a sitting judge not to be first on all of the primary ballots, but it has happened on occasion.
Bowen, a longtime assistant county prosecutor before being named to the bench, has the backing of most of the county's legal establishment, and her campaign has been managed by the same group that has been successfully running the campaigns of sitting judges for more than two decades.
That hasn't stopped Andrews from mounting an aggressive campaign, one that essentially challenges the notion that the governor, rather than the voters, should be able to pick their judges.
It's a play that might have some resonance in Harford, where O'Malley is extremely unpopular; however, it failed to take Andrews, Scheinin and a third candidate anywhere in 2008 when another O'Malley judicial appointee, Judge Angela Eaves, won both primaries after being on the bench for only a few months.
Presidential, congressional contests
While it also remains to be seen how much of a role, if any, Maryland has to play in the selection of the Republican Party's nominee, the race for delegates at this summer's party convention slogs onward.
Nine candidates are on the Tuesday's Republican presidential ballot, including the three main combatants, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Only President Barack Obama's name appears on the Democratic primary ballot.
Many pundits believe Romney could wrap up the nomination by winning today in Maryland and in Wisconsin's primary.
Both parties have slates of delegates to their nominating conventions on the Maryland ballot, with different slates appearing for each of the two congressional districts into which Harford has been divided. (The Democrats will continue to vote for both male and female delegate slates in each congressional district.)
This year also marks the first since 2002 in which Harford voters will participate in two congressional elections, rather than three. Redistricting removed the northern third of the county from the Sixth Congressional District and placed it in the First District, along with the central part of the county. The southern third of the county remains in the Second Congressional District.
Two incumbent congressmen in those districts won't have opposition in Tuesday's primary, but there are plenty of challengers courting votes from the opposite parties.
In the Second District, Harford State Sen. Nancy Jacobs of Edgewood and Harford Del. Rick Impallaria of Joppa are seeking the Republican nomination, as are Larry Smith, Howard Orton, Vlad Degen and Ray Bly. The winner will face incumbent Congressman C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, who does not have opposition in the Democratic primary.
In the First Congressional District, John LaFeria, Kim Letke and Rosen are vying for the Democratic nomination to face Congressman Andy Harris, who doesn't have opposition in the Republican primary.
By the numbers
As of a week ago, the county had 152,809 active registered voters, including 61,778 Democrats and 64,957 Republicans. That means both the numbers of Democrats and Republicans dropped from an earlier count, although Republicans continue to hold a lead of several thousand over Democrats.
Six days of early voting for the primary closed Thursday evening with 3,246 casting ballots at the McFaul Activity Center in Bel Air. The total represents 2.56 percent of Harford's 126,736 registered Republican and Democratic voters, according to the Maryland Board of Elections.
The early voting figures appeared to be on par with the gubernatorial primary and general election of 2010, the first time early voting was allowed in the state.
In last week's early voting in Harford, 1,990 Republicans and 1,256 Democrats participated, according the state board of elections.
The busiest day by far was the final day, Thursday, where 753 votes were cast. The second busiest was the first day, Saturday, March 24, when 544 votes were cast.
There was a huge disparity in early voting by congressional district, perhaps reflecting the location of the single polling place in Bel Air in the heart of the First District. Democrats had hoped to register enough new voters to get a second early voting spot in the Route 40 corridor, which is the Second District, but they fell short.
According to state board of elections figures, 2,661 of the early votes cast in Harford were by people who live in the First District, compared to just 585 early votes from the Second District.
For more information on the primary election in Harford County, go to http://www.harfordvotes.info.
And visit http://www.exploreharford.com for complete election returns and reports on local races throughout Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.