Finally, it's over. The presidential election campaign that ended (we think) on Nov. 8 had been going on for a year and a half. It was ugly, too, on both sides.
The good news for democracy is that Americans, with a reputation for low turnouts, decided this time to show up in record numbers. The fear factor can work wonders.
Maryland was no exception. Neither was Baltimore County.
When I went to cast my ballot early at the Reisterstown Senior Center on the Hannah More campus, 40 people were waiting outside and many more stood inside the building. My wife found the same situation a day earlier.
Just looking at early-voting results from the first three days, a record number of Reisterstown, Pikesville and Owings Mills residents made their way to either the Hannah More site or the Maryland Center for Agriculture on Shawan Road in Hunt Valley to cast their ballots prior to Nov. 8.
Clearly, early voting is catching on.
Take, for instance, Day 1. At the Reisterstown polling place, 16,269 people voted — a 150 percent increase over the Day 1 primary vote. Day 2 proved it was no fluke. Voting was nearly 400 percent higher than in the April 26 primary for Day 2.
Throughout Baltimore County, people came out to participate early. In just the first three days of pre-Nov. 8 balloting, 44,000 men and women cast their votes in the county — a good deal more than the 39,000 who had voted during the entire April early-voting period.
In Maryland, the three-day early-voting total of 326,000 far outpaced the seven-day early-voting numbers in the April primary of 260,000.
Why this surge in the popularity of early voting?
First, it gives voters far greater flexibility. They can juggle their schedules much easier when they have eight voting days (early voting, plus Nov. 8) to choose from.
Second, the state increased the number of polling places in each jurisdiction (eight in Baltimore County and five in the city). There still aren't nearly enough locations for early voting, but at least we had a few within an easy drive this time.
Third, we witnessed a fierce, nasty and sometimes brutal presidential contest in which each candidate warned of dire consequences if the other side were to win. Voters were rightly alarmed and were determined to get out and cast a vote.
The long lines also were precipitated by a wayward decision from Annapolis to return to a paper ballot this year.
It cost Maryland taxpayers $27 million to abandon the touch-screen computer voting system we had used without any problems since 2002. Ironically, the expensive replacement we got was a throwback to an ancient era of voting — marking the ballot by hand.
Fortunately this system, while exceedingly slow and clunky, has a positive feature: All our votes are stored on paper and a photo is taken of each piece of paper when we slide the marked ballots into the electronic counting machine.
Maryland and a few other states tinkered with Internet voting this year for people requesting absentee ballots. It was a high-risk decision to do so.
Indeed, a group of cyber-security experts warned the state elections board that the Internet voting setup would "make Maryland one of the most vulnerable states in the U.S. for major election tampering."
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That's deeply troubling and should disturb state lawmakers, who need to closely examine whether any tampering took place this time among absentee ballots. Voting is too important to allow it to be subject to computer hacking and manipulation.