Voting in north Baltimore mirrors predictions of heavy turnout

Vote totals hung on a board above the voting machines at Medfield Heights Elementary School on Tuesday morning.

And the winner by a landslide was ... fajita chicken.

Fajita chicken garnered 184 votes, compared to 12 votes for turkey and cheese sandwiches, seven votes for pineapple, three for rice and two for corn.

The food vote, presumably for a school project, was a mystery even to parents waiting on a long line to vote in the general election while their young children, preschool students at Medfield Heights, played among themselves. And since public schools were closed on Election Day, there was no one to ask.

"I don't know what they were voting on," said Kerry Ford Morancy, mother of Eli, 4.

The vote totals provided a bit of comic relief for a serious presidential election that drew crowds larger than in 2008 to Medfield Heights Elementary, according to longtime Republican chief judge Tom Kerr, of Medfield.

"This is the slowest it's been," Kerr, 69, an election judge for 22 years, said as he surveyed a line of 10 people waiting to vote at 10 a.m. "We had 50 people (waiting) before we opened."

"You have the seniors who are retired voting now," Kerr said. And he was expecting another wave at 3 p.m., when people started getting off work.

Voters across Maryland reported record long lines and waits of up to two hours Tuesday, and state elections officials predicted an 80 percent turnout rate among registered voters, consistent with past presidential elections, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Kerr agreed with most pollsters, who predicted a razor-thin race between President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Gov. Mitt Romney — especially in a precinct of predominantly Democratic Baltimore City that Kerr said is friendly to Republicans.

"You know it's going to be close (with) all these people" waiting in line, he said.

The line at Medfield Heights paled in comparison to a line of at least 100 people that stretched from the front door up two flights of stairs at Shrine of the Sacred Heart Church in Mount Washington.

"I think It's good," said Mount Washingtonian Paul Cudone, 56, wine manager for The Wine Source store in Hampden, who was the last in line at 11:09 a.m.

In the parking lot outside, political science students from Goucher College in Towson handed out exit poll surveys for a class project. The precinct skews heavily Democratic, but, "This is where we got permission to take the poll," said student Emma George, 20, a Goucher sophomore.

They also conducted exit polling at Barclay Elementary/Middle School in Charles Village. Goucher classmate Sam Rapine said he was surprised to see a fair number of Republicans turn out there.

Throughout north Baltimore, "you've got a big turnout today," said William O'Donnell, a Northern District police officer who was going around to polls in the area to make sure everything was all right. The longtime community liaison officer said turnout struck him as exceeding 2008. "I've never seen it like this," he said. "Of course, the weather cooperated."

O'Donnell was leaving Govans Manor on York Road, which has about 1,700 registered voters but in years past has under-performed, according to election judges there.

About 350 people had voted at Govans Manor by 11:30 a.m.

"In 2008, this is what we had at the end of the night," said voting technician Gaye Burrell, of Northwood.

"They're coming," said Democratic chief judge Natalie North.

The high turnout was good for Girl Scout troops, who were conducting brisk sales at Shrine of the Sacred Heart and St. David's Episcopal Church in Roland Park, and for Roland Park Elementary/Middle School's PTA

Troop 5702 held a bake sale outside St. David's, featuring cookies, chocolate and peanut butter pretzel balls, scones "and one last brownie," said Zoe Prue, 7, a Roland Park Elementary student.

"We don't care how (people) vote. They just have to buy cookies," said Eric Johnson, 44, of Roland Park, a research scientist on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University, who was at the church with his daughter, Grace, 7.

Johnson said he had no idea how much money the troop was making, because, "People keep giving us more than we ask for."

Election Day campaigning was in full force around the area, especially in the battle over Question 6, the marriage equality referendum. Question 6 supporters and opponents fought the battle of sign- waving at Grace United Methodist Church in Homeland. And at St. David's, Mary Ann Mears, of Poplar Hill, and her daughter, Baltimore deputy state's attorney Elizabeth Embry, of Waverly, showed their support for Question 6.

At Medfield Heights, Marty Taylor, a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Church's Respect Life Committee, handed out literature opposing Question 6. Taylor said she had never seen such long lines, including in Hampden, where she votes at the Academy for College and Career Exploration, a city public school. She said she tried to vote early in the morning, but there was a 20-minute wait, so she decided to come back later.

Across the street from Grace United Methodist, a semi-retired clinical social worker, who would not give his name for fear of retaliation, stood at the busy intersection, holding an odd sign that said, "Republicans: It's not too late. Write in for Sarah Palin."

The staunch Democrat said his sign was intended to argue that Romney was a bad candidate who is only pretending to care for the middle class and that Republican voters would be better off "wasting their vote" for Palin, the former Alaska governor.

"I'm getting a lot of smiles and laughs from Democrats," said the Rodgers Forge resident, 62. "I'm just lucky enough to have the time to do this — and I'm angry enough to do it."

One of the lesser-known ballot initiatives, Question 5, took on greater importance at First English Lutheran Church in Guilford, where people voting in precinct 1 went to one side of the voting room, while precinct 2 voters went to the other side.

Question 5 asks voters if they want to uphold congressional redistricting in Maryland. Election judges at First English said redistricting in 2010 has had a profound effect on the two voting precincts at the church. Both precincts used to be comparable, at least in the number of voting machines. But now, precinct 2, which had 1,452 voters before redistricting, has just 258 voters and two voting machines, compared with 12 machines for precinct 1.

"It's pitiful," said Margaret Mason, the chief Democratic judge for precinct 2. "I was over there helping (in precinct 1), because I'm so bored."

The voting line stretched out the door at Roland Park Elementary/Middle, where chief Democratic judge Melina Turtle, of Lake Evesham, taped a small "I voted" ticket to the blouse of voter Annette Arthur, 90.

For Arthur, casting her vote was a fact of life.

"I've been doing it quite a long time," she said.

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