Many reasons to vote in Harford, as plenty do just that

Harford County voters had many reasons for packing the county's 75 polling places of Election Day Tuesday, and not all of them had to do with electing the nation's next commander-in-chief.

The interest shown by Harford's voters translated a huge turnout, which caused long lines and waits at many locations around the county.

Gretchen Hopley, of Bel Air, brought her daughter, Tennyson, with her to vote at Prospect Mill Elementary School near Bel Air around lunchtime Tuesday.

A regular voter, Hopley said "I want her to know she has a say in the world, in how this world is run."

"And I want her to see my vote," Hopley said.

This election is particularly important for her family, Hopley said.

"Tennyson has two mommies. It's very important for us to vote for Question 6," Hopley said. "We want her to be part of this historic decision."

"I want to be able to tell her, 'You were there the first time we tried to vote for this,'" Hopley said.

Voting in general is important she said.

"I think we all have a role in deciding our futures. We all have different ideas what the future should be," Hopley said. "That's what makes it more interesting."

Besides what most expected would be a close presidential vote nationally between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, the statewide ballot questions drew voters to the polls in Harford County in droves Thursday.

Crowds, waiting times varied

Although some polling places were busier than others, the time of day also appeared to be a factor in how much of a wait voters experienced.

At Bel Air High School around lunchtime, there was no need to wait for the next available voting station. As of 1 p.m., 558 people had voted.

Garrett Tollenger, a chief election judge at BAHS, said the stream of people had been steady all day up until 30 minutes earlier, when the crowd died down significantly.

At 6:30 a.m., there were 30 people waiting in line for the polls to open at 7 a.m. and 106 people voted in the first hour, Tollenger.

Bel Air resident Patricia Pritchett appreciated being able to get in and out. She said she was able to vote within five minutes.

"Early voting helped," Pritchett said in taking a guess why there weren't more people voting at BAHS. "They didn't want to wait in lines."

Pritchett said she found the state and county ballot questions confusing, even after reading them carefully.

"You won't know what to believe anymore," she said about conflicting ads on the questions.

Pritchett voted for Romney because she's "not happy with what's going with Obama." But if the White House and Congress don't start working together, she continued, "nothing will get done."

No waiting for voters

William S. James Elementary School in Abingdon was slightly ahead of its northern neighbor with 732 voters by 1 p.m.

"One machine got stuck and one turned off," said Chief Judge Charlotte Robinson, "but no big issues."

Unlike Bel Air High School, roughly 50 people were waiting in line to vote. Robinson said it had been like that all day.

"We usually wait for the voters to come in," she joked. "We didn't expect it."

Dave Williams, of Abingdon, came to vote with his son, Scott, a first time voter.

"It was pretty much what I was expecting," the younger Williams said about his first election experience.

Dave Williams has never missed an opportunity to vote.

"I've voted here for 16 years and this is the longest line I've ever seen," he said.

A registered Democrat, Williams went away from party lines and voted for Rob Sobhani, an Independent, for Senate and Romney for president. So did his son.

"I think there should be term limitation," he said, referring to incumbent Ben Cardin's run in the U.S. Senate. "People get complacent and vote for familiar names."

As for Romney, Williams said, "It's definitely a time for change and not the kind we've had the last four years."

On the ballot questions, Williams voted against both expanded gambling in Maryland and same sex marriage.

Big numbers

Although there was no wait for voters at Patterson Mill High School, the polling location had seen one of the biggest turnouts so far in the Bel Air area - 1,250 voters by 2 p.m.

"It was a long line this morning," said chief judge Maggie Mundle. "There were 255 voters in the first hour."

She added that since opening at 7 a.m. there had "never been a time when the machines weren't all full."

Bel Air resident Susan Reinhardt said for this election she felt "more cynical than I've ever felt."

She explained that in the 2008 election she was originally for Obama, but became disillusioned quickly.

"He's just like every other politician," she said. Reinhardt, a registered Republican, added that it should be a close election as the "country is pretty divided" between the two main candidates.

If Reinhardt had her way, however, "I think I'd get rid of everyone and start over," she joked.

She fears the official winner won't be announced Tuesday night, or even by Wednesday, preparing for something similar to the 2000 election with Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Reinhardt also voted for Sobhani, saying the state needs to "get out these good ol' boys."

For Congress, she went with Muir Boda, a Libertarian, in District 1 over incumbent Andy Harris, calling Boda "another person who's different"

Heavy all day

Scott Schlegel, the chief Republican election judge at Prospect Mill, said voting was "heavy" all day, and he thought it was the ballot questions on same sex marriage, gambling expansion and in-state tuition for illegal immigrant children, not the presidential race, that was drawing the voters.

Schlegel said he has been working elections for 28 years, and he likened this year's to the year of the gun ban in 1986 or 1988.

"When the polls closed at 8 p.m., there were 300 people in line," Schlegel said. "It might be that way tonight."

Even with 40 people waiting, the line to vote at Prospect Mill Elementary School moved smoothly around noon Tuesday.

It was the same way at most polling, where election officials were saying the crowds were larger than usual. It took about 30 minutes to get through the entire voting process at Prospect Mill, and by the time it was over, the lines were much shorter.

Another polling place reporting lines throughout the day was Jarrettsville Elementary, one of the county's largest voting precincts.

A mid-morning line snaked through the lobby of the school, as more than 100 people waited to get into the cafeteria to sign in and cast their votes. Even more were waiting at noon, according to one voter who went to Jarrettsville at that time.

From 7 p.m. to about 1:30 p.m., a long line of voters also snaked around the perimeter of the huge Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, according to elections officials at that polling place. Though far fewer people were waiting to vote around 4 p.m.

'Biggest I've seen'

"It's the biggest [turnout] I've seen, and I've seen quite a few," said Chief Election Judge Earl Winters. "It's a close election, and people are just involved in a lot of serious issues."

Karen Ballistereri, of Joppa, who came to vote with her husband, Paul, thought the voting process went well, even with the high number of people participating.

"Everything went easy and smooth," Karen Ballistereri said. "It was very organized, and we were in and out.

She had a tough decision on how to vote.

"I went overall with a gut feeling on who can make a difference," Ballistereri said. "With what you see on TV, you don't know who to believe."

The Ballistereris both voted for Obama, against Question 6 and for Question 7.

"I was stressing over who to vote for President," Paul Ballistereri said. "It comes down to who lies the best or who BS's you like the most."

"It's just like the stock market," he added. "Past performance in not indicative of future results."

The church had volunteers in the lobby serving free coffee and doughnut holes to voters.

Early start

In Fallston, where the 7 a.m. temperature was 32 degrees and frost covered the farm fields, voters and came an went fairly quickly at Precinct 3-06 at Fallston Middle School during the first hour the polls were open. The sun was rising in a blue sky with a few white clouds.

Lisa Fresham-Wilson and Christopher Comeringer, the two election judges for the precinct, said they had already been pretty busy. At 7:30 there was about a 10-minute wait to sign in and get an empty voting station.

"We had a line outside when we opened," Comeringer said. "We've never had that before."

"So far it's gone very well, no problems," he added.

By 8 a.m., the traffic in and out of the parking lot at Fallston Middle had died down considerably.

Split down middle

At Prospect Mill, Rev. Ken Tipton and his wife, Vonnie, are also regular voters, but said this year there's special interest in the presidential race.

Tipton, a "Ronald Reagan Republican," said the country appears to be split down the middle.

"It will be a close election. I have high hopes, but not high expectations," Tipton said.

Both Tiptons voted against same sex marriage and gaming in Maryland and proudly cast their ballots for Mitt Romney.

Harford elections officials had said they expected a total turnout of between 80 to 85 percent for this election.

Voter turnout was exceeding expectations at Havre de Grace High School, where Chief Election Judge James McKenzie said Tuesday afternoon that "turnout was better than what we expected."

Lines unheard of

"In the history of this precinct, people waiting in line is completely unheard of," McKenzie said.

McKenzie, working his fourth general election, said hadn't seen any problems as of 1 p.m.

"Everything is going smoothly," he said. "The only thing is the lines, which is unique."

William Vass came to vote at HHS with strong opinions on Question 7, which would expand gambling in Maryland.

"I voted against it," Vass said. "I see a lot of other casinos, and people being laid off from them."

"Eventually, we're just going to have some empty buildings," Vass added. "I don't think they're going to get a lot more [jobs] by adding more casinos."

Vass also voted to re-elect Obama.

"I think he's going to bring us back out of the hole," Vass said. "If we go in the opposite direction, we'll go backwards."

At Level Fire Hall north of Havre de Grace, turnout was also higher than anticipated.

"In 30 years, this is the busiest I've ever seen," said Nancy Lynch, one of the chief election officials, who also voted at the fire hall.

Gina North, another chief election official said that in her view, "The ballot issues were a big art of the reason there so many people coming out."

North said that over a thousand people had turned up to vote by 2 p.m.

"For this time of day, that's more than we usually have," North said. "We have been basically waiting on people since we opened our doors."

Bill and Barbara Collier from Havre de Grace came to vote against Question 7.

"We don't like the idea," Bill Collier said. "We get money from casinos. They just want table games."

"We don't know where the money is supposed to go," Barbara Collier said. "It's supposed to go to education, but it won't go there. We're both retired teachers, we know."

Both also voted against legalizing same-sex marriage on religious grounds, and they also voted for Romney for president.

"We're waiting for something positive to happen [from President Obama]," Barbara Collier said. Her husband thought Obama hadn't been truthful about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.

"I hate to say it, but he came out and lied about it," Bill Collier said. "It was a cover-up.

'Very strong'

At Aberdeen High School, Chief Election Judge Thomas Mitchell said voter turnout was "very strong."

"I've been doing this 10 years, and this is the strongest turnout I've seen," Mitchell said. About 900 voters had shown up by mid-afternoon, Mitchell said.

"It's more than we've ever done," Mitchell added. "At 7 a.m., there were 100 people in here."

Sarah Joy Stallsmith came with her husband primarily because she supported Question 6, allowing same sex marriage.

"I like being married, and I think people ought to be able to do it," Stallsmith said.

The number of state and local ballot questions, plus the national and congressional races gave more importance to this election, Stallsmith said.

"It feels more like my position will matter on more local issues, like my vote will matter," she added.

Aegis staff members Erika Butler, Marissa Gallo and Matt Button contributed to this story, as did Aegis correspondent Hafiz Rashid.

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