Election official: 'Everybody seems to be having a pretty slow day'

Carol Stallings and Judy Chioli pushed open the doors to Swansfield Elementary School to see what awaited them on this primary election day.

Not a soul.

"Usually by 7 o'clock there are people lined up," said Stallings, a chief election judge at this Columbia voting precinct. "There was nobody."

That appeared to be the theme at many voting locations throughout the day.

At Harper's Choice Middle School, a slow stream of voters trickled in throughout the day. The precinct, which has about 1,700 eligible voters, according to chief election judge Rhoda Toback, saw 1 percent turnout around 11 a.m. and 2 percent turnout around 1:30 p.m. A small afternoon "rush" brought the turnout to 5 percent, or about 100 people, by 2:45 p.m.

"People are not coming out in this district because it's a heavily Democratic district," Toback said.

However, turnout was also light in the western part of Howard County, where the majority of voters are Republican. Between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m., about a dozen people entered Glenelg High School and came out wearing "I voted" stickers.

One of them was Kim Wissman, a Republican, who said voting was "quick and easy." Wissman she came out because she felt it was her duty to vote, but she said she was not surprised by the low turnout "just because of the tone of the (presidential) election this time around.

"It's been a very frustrating election," Wissman said. "I'm tired of hearing the candidates take digs at each other ... It's been a very divided party."

One of the things that frustrated Wissman this election season was all the robo calls she has received. She said she has received about three to four robo calls a day, from both national and local campaigns or groups.

"Those calls did not help," said Wissman, who declined to say who she voted for. "They actually are a detriment."

One of the interesting things about this election, Toback pointed out, is the lack of electioneering that has taken place outside of polling places. She said a volunteer for circuit court judge candidate Clarke Ahlers' campaign was the only person who had been outside of Harper's Choice Middle most of the day.

John Mattingly, another Ahlers volunteer, was the only person electioneering outside of Glenelg High School.

Around 1:30 p.m., as a reporter drove by River Hill High School, no campaign volunteers were outside the school's two polling locations. Next door, at Clarksville elementary, again the only presence was from Ahlers' volunteers.

Jill Robinson, who voted at Bryant Woods Elementary Tuesday morning, also felt something was missing as she left the school, walking by numerous signs for candidates.

"First time I've voted and there are no electioneers," she said. That was also the case at Wilde Lake High School.

At Swansfield, however, there were four volunteers for the school board and court races outside the polling location in the early morning — sometimes were more people holding signs outside than filling out ballots inside.

'Pretty slow day'

Howard County Board of Elections member Donna Rice was responsible for visiting 12 voting sites throughout the county and making sure everything was going smoothly. Around 3 p.m., she checked in on Harper's Choice Middle School and said she had three more sites left to visit.

"Everybody seems to be having a pretty slow day, and it's been relatively orderly," she said.

Robert Holcomb, also a chief election judge at Swansfield Elementary, said "we expected a light turnout." A total of 35 people had been there in the first 45 minutes.

"Howard County is a majority Democratic county, and the president election is not an issue because Obama's running unopposed," he said. "According to the media, the Republican race is over, so there's no strong issue to bring people out."

The trickle of voters at multiple voting locations largely said they came out of civic duty, not due to specific races.

"I always come to vote," John Adams, a Columbia resident, said outside of Swansfield.

Steven Jones and his wife, Janice, said they had come to Wilde Lake High School shortly after 8 a.m. to beat the crowds they thought would be coming later.

"We never missed an election," Steven said. "We're not going to start now."

Only 15 people had voted at the high school in its first hour open.

Some election officials attributed the light turnout, in part, to the county's early voting period. Nearly 6,000 voters, or about 3.24 percent of eligible voters, came out in late March to three early voting sites in Columbia, Ellicott City and Jessup.

A few of those voting today said they had come out for specific races.

At Wilde Lake, John Harmon said he was there specifically to support county school board candidate David Gertler. The Republican presidential primary race also was important to him, he said. He voted for Mitt Romney.

"It's kind of cool that Maryland has a say in the election this time," Harmon said.

Meanwhile, Gertler spent the afternoon at Mt. Hebron High School, where a few voters echoed concern that so few were turning out to the polls.

"It's my right to vote," said Sherry Fulkoski, of Ellicott City. "People should be here, people should be voting. This is their lives they're voting for."

Newt Hetrick, an Ellicott City Republican, came to Mt. Hebron to get "the right Republican front runner who can beat the standing president.

"(Mitt) Romney has the best shot, but I like (Rick) Santorum," Hetrick said. "With him, what you see is what you get. He's a good man, but I'm not sure he can carry the middle-of-the-line vote."

He declined to say who got his vote.

At Glenelg, Republican Karen Herriotts said she came out to vote because there are certain people she wanted to see elected. She voted for Newt Gingrich for president.

In the school board race, Herriotts chose only to vote for incumbent Janet Siddiqui, who she met and spoke with at the Howard County fair a few years ago.

"She has some of the same views I have," she said.

Siddiqui also drew the support of Eunice Boyd, of Columbia, who voted at Swansfield in the late afternoon.

"Whatever the board is doing, whatever's going on up there, is working," Boyd said. She also voted for Ann De Lacy and Ellen Giles.

At Bryant Woods, in contrast, Jill Robinson's focus was on changing the makeup of the school board.

"It's been a little dysfunctional of late," she said. "I would like some new blood and some new ideas."

At Swansfield, Karen Arnold felt a similar sentiment.

"There's one person on the school board causing some dissension and costing the taxpayers lots of money," Arnold said of incumbent Allen Dyer. "I want him voted out. I think we should all be able to work together."

The school board race also drew Rita Wyble to the Mt. Hebron poll; she has grandchildren in the system, and her children are graduates of county schools.

"My son went to public schools and he got into Duke University," she said. "That says a lot about the school system. The schools are doing a good job and the board members have to keep it up to the standards."

Inside Bryant Woods only 23 people had voted as of 8:30 a.m., about half of the 40 or 50 that would typically have voted in the poll's first 90 minutes, according to election workers.

Will Fleck, a chief election judge, said he was hoping the voting would pick up, though he didn't expect it to.

The school normally gets 50 percent turnout, he said. This year, however, he was predicting 10 to 15 percent.

Staff writer Sara Toth contributed to this report.

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