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‘It’s a big deal’: Carroll County voters make their voices heard on Election Day

Carroll County residents set out to 13 voting centers across the county to cast their votes on Election Day, Tuesday. The energy was high, as was the turnout.

Election Director Katherine Berry said via email that Carroll sites were among the busiest in the state, calling the turnout “phenomenal.”

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That was after more than 39,000 county voters requested mail-in ballots and more than 36,000 cast ballots during the early voting period, from Oct. 26 through Nov. 2, both of those numbers far higher than normal due to the coronavirus pandemic and the hotly contested presidential election.

Based on eyewitness and social media accounts, people were in and out in under 15 minutes at many sites throughout the day, such as the South Carroll Swim Club, while the lines got long in others, with several reporting 90 minutes or more to vote at North Carroll Middle School.

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The Times checked in throughout the day at four Carroll high schools, which aren’t typically used as polling places but were busy voting centers on Tuesday.

Francis Scott Key, 10 a.m.

Emily Meekins, a 2020 Francis Scott Key graduate, stood at the entrance of the FSK parking lot sporting a red and white face mask with the phrase “Herbert for School Board” and holding a sign with the same phrase.

Meekins had been on site since 7 a.m. — when the polls first opened — and this will be her first time voting in a presidential election.

“Prior to, I was actually super nervous just because I am a younger female,” Meekins said. "It’s everything about elections and this is my first time that I’m actually able to vote, so I was super nervous about the whole topic. What if I pick the wrong person? What if whoever I pick ends up not being the best choice?

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“Now that I actually have an opinion in the government, it’s a big deal.”

Meekins is campaigning for Herbert, who is up for re-election to the Carroll County Board of Education. Herbert was elected to the board in 2016 and Meekins helped Herbert on her previous campaign as well.

She handed out flyers, talked to voters, and helped educate the public about Herbert’s approach to issues that are important to county constituents.

Meekins said it was fairly quiet at FSK for much of the morning, but things were starting to pick up around 10:30 a.m. Voters were greeted by a volunteer offering hand sanitizer at the back door of the gymnasium and a sign on the door said masks were required to enter the building.

Blue X’s were individually spaced out on the floor to adhere to social distancing guidelines and individual stands were set up on the floor for people to cast their votes in private. Once finished, they could exit toward the front of the gym into the FSK lobby and back out to the parking lot.

“I’m really hoping to see some change for the better,” Meekins said. “I’m really hoping that we’re not going to fall back onto old times and things that have happened in the past. I would like to move forward from everything. No matter who gets elected, I would really like to see some progress in this country.”

Voters form a short line as polls open at Winters Mill High School in WestminsterTuesday morning.
Voters form a short line as polls open at Winters Mill High School in WestminsterTuesday morning. (Dylan Slagle)

Winters Mill, 11:30 a.m.

Five-year-old Erykah Barnes received a “Future Voter” sticker Tuesday from election officials and her grandmother, Angel Hill, said it was exciting for her to be in attendance on such an important day.

Hill, a Westminster resident, didn’t used to vote when she was in her 20s, citing a lack of knowledge about politics in previous years. She has since raised her children to think differently to show them that their votes count.

“It’s always important for me to cast my vote,” said Hill. “This year has definitely been different and it’s exciting to see that people are out here voting. The last four years have been really difficult and this past year has been almost impossible to survive.”

Hill is one of the founders of the Rise Up Community Center in Westminster, part of Together We Own It, and said the staff have noticed anxiety building within the children in the program due to increased political tensions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re all struggling trying to get through this,” Hill said. “I really want to see a change.”

Carol Fearns, one of four chief election judges at Winters Mill, said she has been working Election Day for 14 years. She said doing so makes her feel as if she is contributing to an essential part of American culture.

“People are very passionate about voting and the turnout has been really wonderful,” Fearns said. “Everybody is here, they’re here for a purpose, they want to do their part, and they want to take their right to vote and do it. It’s really so exciting to see so many people turn out this year.”

Fearns said she voted during the early period.

A steady flow of voters cae in and out of the Winters Mill gymnasium and those in attendance seemed pleased with the overall organization of the location. Once voters checked in, they were directed to either a paper ballot station to the right inside the gym or an electronic station set up along the wall on the far side of the room.

“There are a lot of people telling me that they want to see their vote count,” Fearns said. “They felt if they came that it was really going to be important. Our scanners will come up [with a message] that says ‘Your vote has counted,’ and people really look at that and that makes them feel like they did their part.”

Voters stand in line to cast their ballots in the presidential election Tuesday morning at Liberty High School in Eldersburg Nov. 3, 2020.
Voters stand in line to cast their ballots in the presidential election Tuesday morning at Liberty High School in Eldersburg Nov. 3, 2020. (Dylan Slagle)

Liberty High School, 3 p.m.

Patrons inside the Liberty High School gymnasium paused what they were doing to applaud a first-time voter, announced as such by an Election Day volunteer at the sign-in table. It happened again a few moments later.

Liberty was bustling with voters and the line was akin to that of fans waiting outside stadium gates to a football game. Paige Dugan, one of the chief election judges at Liberty, said as of 2 p.m., about 1,900 people had already come to cast their votes.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. and the volume of voters started to pick back up around 3:45.

“Holy mackerel, I worked three days of early voting and the volumes were just astronomically high,” Dugan said. "With the numbers that are turning out, I think they did so much early voting because of the pandemic. You can see today’s turnout, they’re still coming.

“It’s a record number, previous elections are about a 35% turnout in your precinct, which is pretty good. We’re shooting for 85% today.”

Paul O’Sullivan, a 33-year-old Eldersburg resident, said he has an “old school” approach to voting and chose to cast his vote in person. He said he was intimidated by the long line at Liberty at first, and waited about 10 to 15 minutes outside before entering the building to vote.

“When you see the progress, it’s not as bad,” O’Sullivan said. “It did keep moving, which was nice. Once I got in there, there was an additional line you had to go through, but it wasn’t too bad at all. It was what I expected honestly.”

This is O’Sullivan’s fourth time voting in a general election and he said he wants to see people find common ground once the results are announced.

“I’d like to see unity,” O’Sullivan said. “It feels so divisive and I think people have way more in common than they do different. It just seems like we’re fanning the flames of ‘What side are you on?’ and I don’t work that way. I want to be friends with everybody.”

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South Carroll, 4:15 p.m.

Eric Offutt, 35, of New Windsor, stood outside of South Carroll High School campaigning on behalf of his legal partner, Laura Morton, who is running for judge of the Carroll County Circuit Court.

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Offutt said he appreciates how much recognition the county’s local candidates have gotten during this general election, as well as the various methods in which people have been able to cast their votes, noting the mail-in and early voting periods.

“[Morton has] been in the courtroom for 25-30 years and she’s somebody who has been in front of great judges and some very bad judges,” Offutt said. “She’s had the opportunity to learn, not only the law, but how to carry herself as a judge. I think very highly of her on a personal level, so for me it was a no-brainer to be here, even for the 13 hours in the relatively chilly weather.”

Offutt said he has been at South Carroll since 6:45 a.m. and he got his chance to vote around 8:30 a.m. South Carroll was relatively quiet around 4:15 p.m., with a steady flow of voters coming in and out.

Bruce Carlson, 61, of Woodbine, said he has voted in every general election since he was 18 years old. Carlson said he’d like to see moral values and physical responsibility from people increase, post-election.

“I don’t care about the rhetoric people have, I want my health care fixed,” Carlson said. "Too many people hate the president. I don’t want to invite him for dinner, but I want him to fix things. I just want him to fix what’s wrong. The system is broken … we have politicians that have been there for 30 years and they’re not really good at it.

“That’s what we need, [to fix the system]. It’s only fair.”

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