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Steady turnout in Harford on first morning of early voting in divisive presidential race

More than 200 people came out for the first hour on the first day of early voting in Harford County Thursday. People were eager to vote, but no so eager to say who they voted for, the result of a divisive national election.

One Harford County Democrat and one Harford Republican put political differences aside and walked into the McFaul Activity Center in Bel Air for the first day of early voting Thursday morning to help decide a national election that has caused deep divisions between members of the two major political parties in the U.S.

Several voters interviewed outside the McFaul Center, one of four early voting polling places in the county, declined to say whom they voted for in the presidential race because they do not want any venom from supporters of either Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or Republican nominee Donald Trump.

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Political divisions were not an issue for Walter "Butch" Tilley and C. John Sullivan, respective Republican and Democratic appointees to the county's Liquor Control Board, who happened to arrive at the polling place at the same time.

"We put politics aside every day of our life," Sullivan said. "We judge people by who they are."

Tilley noted that, "at the end of the day, it's about compromise for the better good of everyone – we all want to move forward."

Some voters interviewed by The Aegis Thursday morning said they want to make sure their voices are heard in this year's divisive election. Others said they came out to exercise a right for which their ancestors fought. For many, it was also a case of continuing something they have done every election since they were old enough to cast a ballot.

About 40 people were lined up outside the McFaul Center before the polls opened at 8 a.m. A tally posted near the entrance showed 205 people had voted as of 9 a.m.

Despite rain and chilly temperatures, turnout was steady throughout the morning and into the afternoon, according to Harford Deputy Elections Director Dale Livingston.

According to the Maryland State Board of Elections, 7,071 voted at four locations in the county on the first day, almost 3,200 at McFaul Center.

Polls will be open each day for early voting through next Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters can cast ballots at the McFaul Center, the Edgewood Library, Jarrettsville Library or the University Center in Aberdeen. Election Day is Nov. 8.

"It's a Constitutional right, and since it's there you've got to do it," said 82-year-old Alfred Liebel, of Bel Air, who has voted in every election since 1956.

He did not say if he voted for Clinton or Trump but did note, "I always wanted a woman to run for president."

"For 200 and something years, men have messed up this country the best they could, so give a woman a chance, maybe she'll do a better job," Liebel said.

Clinton would be the first female president in U.S. history if she wins.

Lisa D. Fisher and her husband, Ron, of Abingdon, said they voted to honor the people who defended their right to do it.

"There are people who paid a great price for me to have the right to vote, and I honor those people," Ron Fisher said.

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Lisa Fisher said she also wants to "elect the candidate that can carry themselves as commander in chief of our country."

Ina Taylor, of Bel Air, a Democratic Party volunteer, greeted voters as they walked toward the polling place. She stood behind a campaign sign for Clinton and her running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

"They'll turn around and smile at me or give a wave, but mostly people don't talk about who they're voting for," Taylor said.

She chatted with voter Rita Scharmann, of Bel Air, after Scharmann finished voting.

"I'm excited to vote for my candidate this year; I could not wait," said Scharmann.

She noted it "seemed more important than ever" to vote, given the current political climate.

Scharmann did not say who she voted for in the presidential race, but she stressed she has friends from both parties.

Jim Thatcher, a volunteer with Harford County's Republican Central Committee, stood along MacPhail Road, greeting voters and handing out literature for Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

"The voters who I've approached on both sides have been cordial," Thatcher, of Bel Air, said. "Some are pretty adamant about who they like and don't like, but you expect that."

Barry and Ranae Robinson, of Forest Hill, brought their 1-year-old grandson to the polling place, as they were baby-sitting Thursday. Barry Robinson carried the boy on his shoulders.

"It really won't sink in until he's a few years older," Robinson said of his grandson experiencing the political process. "For now, it's just an outing."

"You're never too young to learn about civic responsibility," Ranae Robinson added.

Arshad Khwaja, of Bel Air, posed as his wife, Samrin, snapped a picture of him next to a "vote here" sign near the polling place entrance. The picture was for their 15-year-old daughter, Maryam, who is politically active but too young to vote.

"She wishes she could vote now, but she's got three more years to go, so I thought we'd send her the picture that I actually voted," Arshad Khwaja said.

His wife could not vote, however, because she is a citizen of Great Britain. Samrin Khwaja has lived in the U.S. for 21 years, but she has kept her British citizenship.

Her three children are dual citizens, though.

"People should come out to vote," she said. "It will make a difference for the future of our children, as well."

Arshad Khwaja was born in Pakistan. He has lived in the U.S. since he was 5 years old.

"In many countries the citizens are disenfranchised [but] we have an opportunity in this country to express our views, and one of the most substantial ways of doing that is to vote," he said.

Harford elections officials said they were informed that despite prior announcements to the contrary, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Chis Van Hollen would not be holding a campaign rally outside the McFaul Center on Friday Morning.

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