By Tuesday afternoon, voter turnout in the Town of Bel Air had already surpassed that of its two previous elections.
Elections in 2017 and 2015 drew 374 and 376 voters, respectively, roughly a 5 percent turnout. As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, 504 voters had already cast their ballots.
Polls were open until 8 p.m. and, typically, the busiest time at the polls is after 5 p.m., said Bel Air Town Administrator Jesse Bane.
“People are turning out a lot more than they typically do for a Bel Air municipal election,” Amy Sullivan, of the Harford County Board of Elections, said.
That may have something to do with the large field of candidates.
Nine candidates are running for three seats on the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners, including one incumbent, Phil Einhorn. Other candidates are Kevin Bianca, Daniel Gray, Erin Hughes, Donna Kahoe, William Kelly, Michael Kutcher, James Lockard and James “Capt’n Jim” McMahan.
Einhorn said he thinks the town is on its way to a record turnout, “I’m sure of that.”
“With nine of us running, each has our constituency, family, neighbors. Nine people brings out the vote,” he said as he stood outside town hall, greeting voters as they came in and out.
Some of Tuesday’s voters said they don’t typically participate in the town election, including Sanda Carneiro. Her neighbor, Donna Kahoe, is among the candidates.
“I’m more aware of the election this year because of her,” Carneiro said. “I’m here for her.”
Carneiro is hoping that, if elected, Kahoe will work for improved pedestrian safety in her neighborhood.
Cathy Bland is hoping whomever is elected will address what appears to be increasing crime in town.
“I live in Homestead Village, and that bank keeps getting robbed and the church was burglarized,” Bland said. “It’s kind of sad.”
The Harford Bank branch on South Main Street was robbed twice in six weeks last fall, on Sept. 5 and Oct. 18. An arrest was made in the second robbery, the first remains unsolved.
It was Bland’s second time voting in the local election — she was a nurse at Johns Hopkins and retired in May, making it easier for her to vote, she said.
Leslie Faver is a regular voter.
“Especially in the town, it’s important to see who’s in office and running our town for us,” Faver said.
Residents who have a concern can attend a town meeting, have input and talk to the commissioners and make suggestions, she said.
She voted for Einhorn.
“I think he’s done good stuff and I wanted to give him a chance to do more,” Faver said.
Kahoe was standing outside with Einhorn, greeting voters. She said turnout was strong and steady.
She wasn’t trying to campaign, she said, because by the time most people arrive at the poll, they already know who they’re going to vote for.
“I just thank them for voting, that’s the most important message,” Kahoe said.
She wasn’t sure how the vote was going.
“I feel a little nervous because so many people are running, but it’s great to see everybody,” she said. “Our neighborhood had changed in the last few years, gotten younger, and they’ve all been here to vote.”
Bianca, Gray and Kutcher stood on the other end of the sidewalk, also greeting voters.
For Kutcher, Tuesday’s sunny skies and warm temperatures were a lot better than 30 degrees and pouring rain two years ago when he ran for office.
“It’s definitely a higher turnout. I attribute that to better weather and more candidates,” Kutcher said, adding he was feeling pretty good, “optimistic.”
Bianca said people were friendly and the turnout seemed good.
“It’s good to see people out here, doing their civic duty,” Bianca said. “As far as the results, it is what it is.”
If he isn’t elected, Gray said he might consider serving the town on one of its committees or commissions, something outgoing Mayor Susan Burdette noted last week.
“The ones that don’t win we’ll grab up and put on committees and commissions,” Burdette said.
A last-minute election flyer mailed by the Republican Central Committee of Harford County irritated Einhorn, as well as some of the other town commissioners, who spoke about it at Monday’s town hall meeting.
“A vote for these Democrats is a vote for higher taxes and more wasteful spending!” proclaimed the flyer, which also stamped “Higher Taxes” over the names of the Democrats running: Bianca, Hughes, Kahoe and Kelly. The municipal election is nonpartisan.
“We’ve had so many organizations trying to divide us up between Republicans and Democrats,” Einhorn said. “To my knowledge that has never been part of our group. We don’t make national news, we don’t make national rules, we don’t pass legislation that affects that. I hate to see us divided between Republicans and Democrats for this position. It’s really bothered me today.”
Commissioner Patrick Richards, who is not up for re-election this year, called the mailer an “embarrassment," on Monday.
“I didn’t run for this because I was a Democrat or a Republican or Independent,” Commissioner Amy Chmielewski, who is also not up for re-election this year, said. “I ran because of the town and the people in it.”
Turnout steady in Aberdeen with contested mayoral race
Voters came in and out of the polling place in the Aberdeen Activity Center on Franklin Street at a steady clip Tuesday afternoon.
Mayoral and City Council candidates, as well as their supporters, were a short distance away, greeting voters and handing out campaign literature. More than 1,070 people had voted as of 4 p.m., according to data posted inside the polling place. During the last city election in 2015, there were 1,795 voters who cast a ballot.
Tandra Ridgley, a supporter of Mayor Patrick McGrady, said the incumbent mayor is “the clear choice” for her. McGrady is seeking a second four-year term and faces a challenge from Councilman Melvin Taylor.
Ridgley, who moved to Aberdeen from Havre de Grace in the late 1980s, is president of the nonprofit Grassroots Steering Foundation. She said she has worked with McGrady on several initiatives, such as the Keep Aberdeen Beautiful community cleanup campaign.
“He’s smart, he’s fast on his feet, he’s accessible and approachable,” she said of the mayor. “He’s open to new ideas, he makes himself available to all the citizens of Aberdeen, and he has a vision.”
Ridgley also praised City Council candidate Adam Hiob — he is running unopposed for one of four seats, along with Jason Kolligs and incumbent council members Sandra Landbeck and Tim Lindecamp.
“I’m really excited about what lies ahead for him politically, as well as the vision and energy that he’s going to bring to Aberdeen in his capacity as a City Council member,” Ridgley said.
Grace Taylor, daughter of Melvin Taylor, said she had been working at the polls since late morning and expected to be there until they close at 8 p.m. The 24-year-old Aberdeen resident expressed excitement about voting in her second city election.
She said she is “more for the community” than a particular political party, “and I think my dad is the same way.”
“We hold expectations up, as a community, to be a community rather than separate by party,” she said.
Cody Baczeski wore four buttons on his jacket expressing support for Taylor as mayor, as well as a button supporting Maryland Democrats — elections in Aberdeen are nonpartisan.
The 17-year-old home-school student noted he is not old enough to vote Tuesday, as he will turn 18 next month, but he is “at least old enough to get involved, to make this difference” in the city’s elected leadership.
Baczeski said he thinks McGrady “could do better than what he’s already doing” as mayor and that Taylor wants to “really make that change and give that other 50 percent” he thinks McGrady is leaving out.
He said Taylor wants to “bring us together as a whole, as a community.”
Baczeski said he is impressed that Taylor is a lifelong resident of the city and his desire to help people experiencing homelessness get into housing is “what really caught my eye” about Taylor’s campaign.
“I can’t go one day without seeing at least one homeless person [in Aberdeen], and I think it’s such a shame,” Baczeski said.
Husband and wife Klaus and Kathleen Praesent, said they voted for McGrady for mayor and Hiob and Landbeck for City Council.
“I’ve liked the incumbent since the first time I met him four years ago,” Klaus said of McGrady. “I’ve been following him on TV and in the media; he’s doing a good job.”
Kathleen said she likes McGrady’s “enthusiasm” and how “he keeps the Aberdeen residents informed.” She noted she has seen McGrady at a number of local events for veterans.
“He’s always hands on, that’s what I like about him,” Kathleen said.
The Praesents have lived in Aberdeen since 2003; Klaus, who is originally from Germany, is a veteran of the U.S. Army. Kathleen is a retired civilian worker at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Klaus said he loves being able to participate in the American electoral process. He recalled seeing news footage from countries such as Afghanistan and Syria, showing people being attacked by terrorists while standing in line to vote.
“Not here,” Klaus said.