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Carroll County voters turn out early on first day of early voting

A line of more than 100 people snaked around the sidewalk and parking lot space at Westminster Senior and Community Center, where Carroll County citizens braved chilly temperatures and wet conditions to exercise their right to vote.

Early voting began Monday morning at 7, and the line stayed steady for the first few hours of the day. Carroll has two sites available for early voting through Nov. 2, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. ― the senior center in Westminster, and South Carroll Swim Club in Taylorsville.

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Voters were met with the usual electioneering propaganda and people standing outside the buildings supporting local candidates for various positions such as members of the Carroll County Board of Education, the Circuit Court judge race, representatives for Congress, and the 2020 presidential race between Republican incumbent Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

People seemed to be following social distancing guidelines, and masks were worn by voters and those working inside the poling centers. Diana Collins of Hampstead said she and her husband arrived at the senior center around 7:30 and were finished by 8:15. Collins said she just wanted to be in person to cast her vote.

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“I just felt more control,” she said. “Everybody was very kind ... I expected that.”

Voters stand in line on first day of early voting outside the Westminster Senior and Community Center Monday, October 26, 2020. More than 100 peple were in line when the polls opened at 7 a.m.
Voters stand in line on first day of early voting outside the Westminster Senior and Community Center Monday, October 26, 2020. More than 100 peple were in line when the polls opened at 7 a.m. (Dylan Slagle)

Collins said she wasn’t deterred by the coronavirus pandemic and traveled to Westminster to vote in person.

“If that’s what we need to do ... I think we need to do that,” Collins said. “We just go through the hoops right now with whatever has to be done.”

Lines remained long at each site into the afternoon hours, and people were using social media to describe their experience. On the Sykesville Online Community page via Facebook, many voters talked about a busy scene but manageable wait times. The Westminster Online Community page had similar posts and messages, although one thread from the morning that showed photos of people waiting in line to vote quickly turned into a debate over the effectiveness and necessity of wearing masks outdoors.

Several people who were working inside the senior center and swim club wore face shields as they assisted in the voting process. Stickers were handed out in sealed plastic bags.

Voters said they didn’t receive a temperature check upon entering the buildings, but voting stations and materials were being sanitized throughout the day at both sites.

Karen Donaldson of Westminster sat in the center of the voting room at South Carroll Swim Club and wiped down the manila envelopes used to hold ballots. Donaldson, a chief election judge for more than 20 years, said she arrived at the voting center around 5:45 a.m. Monday.

“Not for the faint of heart,” she said about the long hours and hectic schedule, one that had her needing to complete a training session to be prepared for in-person voting amid the pandemic. “We’re not taking shortcuts.”

Katherine Berry, election director for Carroll County Board of Elections, wrote in an email at about 5:30 p.m. that more than 3,300 citizens had turned out on the first day of early voting, with the number of Republicans more than doubling Democrats. Berry wrote earlier in the day that lines continued to be lengthy, but voters were being patient.

While Donaldson stuck to her disinfecting duties, a few people endured the line and raw outdoor conditions to successfully vote for the first time. The workers inside South Carroll Swim Club greeted them with rounds of applause once their information was registered.

Two of the first-timers came from a father-and-son duo ― Jeff Steras of Sykesville, and his 20-year-old son, Jeffrey Steras Jr. The younger Steras, a 2018 Century High School graduate, stood next to his mother Angel moments after he cast his ballot.

Voters stand in line on first day of early voting at the Westminster Senior and Community Center Monday, October 26, 2020. More than 100 peple were in line when the polls opened at 7 a.m.
Voters stand in line on first day of early voting at the Westminster Senior and Community Center Monday, October 26, 2020. More than 100 peple were in line when the polls opened at 7 a.m. (Dylan Slagle)

“I’ve seen a lot of, I don’t know ... just not good things that Trump has been doing. So I just wanted to make sure that I put my say out there,” Steras said. “Make sure to put my change out there.”

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Steras said he wanted to be present on the first day of early voting because his parents were coming to do the same.

Meanwhile, one person struck an imposing figure standing in the Westminster’s senior center parking lot.

Wayne Cassell of Hampstead came dressed as the Grim Reaper, complete with a sickle attached to a two-sided black poster with a message about his feelings toward Trump.

One side read, “Hi, I’m Death, Head of Trump’s Corona Virus Response Team.” On the other side it said, “Death, Trump’s Top Advisor for Pre-Existing Conditions.”

“He’s done so much for my business, it’s unbelievable,” said Cassell, who wore black gloves with skeletal features on them and a black covering over his hooded face. “I mean, I haven’t had it this good since [President George W. Bush] invaded Iraq.”

Cassell said he’s been masquerading as the Grim Reaper for about 20 years, and has even taken his act to the White House to demonstrate. Most people stopped to read Cassell’s sign Monday, and some pulled out their cellphones to snap pictures.

Wayne Cassell, left, of Hampstead and Cathey Allison, a member of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, debate their political views outside the Westminster Senior and Community Center on the first day of early voting Monday, October 26, 2020.
Wayne Cassell, left, of Hampstead and Cathey Allison, a member of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, debate their political views outside the Westminster Senior and Community Center on the first day of early voting Monday, October 26, 2020. (Dylan Slagle)

A Carroll Transit System driver stopped for a few moments, took some photos, and suggested he bring Cassell to his place of work and let him set up in the lobby.

Not everyone was delighted with the visit from Death ― an elderly man left the senior center after voting wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, and shouted toward Cassell that he wasn’t supposed to be there while muttering something to himself as he walked toward his vehicle.

Cassell said he gets reactions from people no matter where he goes (he’s planning to be back a few times during the early voting process, and again on Election Day).

“I don’t care if they cheer or jeer,” Cassell said. “It doesn’t matter to me, as long as they look.”

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