Just shy of 5,000 eligible Harford County voters have cast ballots during the first five days of early voting from Thursday through Monday, according to the Maryland Board of Elections.
“It’s a little low,” Kevin Keene, Harford County’s elections director, acknowledged Tuesday.
The eight day early voting period prior to the primary election is continuing Tuesday through Thursday at four locations in the county: McFaul Activity Center in Bel Air, Jarrettsville Library, Edgewood Library and Aberdeen Fire Department main station on Rogers Street. Polls are open each day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The primary election will be Tuesday, June 26.
Despite a significant number of contested primary races on the Republican side of the ballot, Harford’s turnout of 4,924 voters was just 3.49 percent of the 140,935 eligible to participate, according to the state figures, which are considered “unofficial” and subject to change.
The McFaul Center site in Bel Air had the largest turnout in the first five days, 2,337 voting, compared to 906 at Jarrettsville, 846 at Aberdeen and 835 at Edgewood.
The heaviest turnout was on the first day, Thursday, when 1,487 voted at the four local polling places; 1,273 voted on Friday, 535 on Saturday, 386 on Sunday and 1,243 on Monday.
The Maryland gubernatorial primary is late again this year and the weather has been clear, sunny and warm all five days of the early voting period, plus local schools let out for the summer on Friday, all factors that election officials say can hold down the turnout, both in the early period and on election day Tuesday.
Turnout is, historically, lower during gubernatorial elections such as this year’s race, compared to presidential races, Keene said.
Still, the local races on the ballot, for offices such as county executive, County Council, sheriff and state’s attorney, have a much greater impact on Harford residents’ daily lives than races at the federal level, Keene said.
“These are the people that are in your community every day making decisions,” he said.
People also have much greater access to local decision-makers, as opposed to leaders on the state or federal level, when it comes to issues such as zoning or public health, according to Keene.
“You can walk into the County Council meeting on a Tuesday and speak to [Councilman] Curtis [Beulah] or the Coach [Council President Richard Slutzky] or the Captain [Councilman James McMahan],” he said. “You’re not doing that down in Annapolis, really, and you’re not doing that, certainly, in Congress.”
There are “some interesting races that are contested” in the primary, Keene said. There are four Republican candidates running for the GOP nomination in the state’s attorney’s race to succeed incumbent Republican State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly, who is stepping down after more than 30 years as Harford’s top prosecutor. One Democrat has filed for that office
There are 13 Republican candidates in the party primary for three Legislative District 7 seats in the Maryland House of Delegates, including incumbents Rick Impallaria and Kathy Szeliga, plus there are two Democratic candidates.
The fields for three House seats in District 34 — two seats in Subdistrict 34A and one in Subdistrict 34B — are also crowded. There are four Republican candidates in the 34A race, including incumbent Del. Glen Glass and three Democratic candidates, including incumbent Del. Mary Ann Lisanti.
The 34B race has four Republican candidates, including incumbent Del. Susan McComas, but one Democrat, Jeff Dinger. On the GOP side, McComas is opposed by Jan Marie Christensen, current county councilman James McMahan and current liquor board member Walter Tilley. The district covers the greater Bel Air area.
In the 2016 general election, when Republican Donald Trump carried Harford County overwhelmingly in the presidential race over Democrat Hillary Clinton, approximately one in three of the 134,000 who voted locally did so during the early voting period, according to the Maryland Board of Elections. In the primary that year, about 12,000 of the 64,000 who voted, 18 percent, did so early.
In the 2014 general election, when the governor’s office, county offices and legislative seats were at stake like this year, almost 18,000 of nearly 92,000 total Harford voters, almost 20 percent, cast their ballots early.
In the 2014 primary, almost 6,300 voters came out early, 18 percent of the 34,700 who participated in that election, according to the state board of elections.
There were nearly 132,300 registered Republican and Democratic voters eligible to participate in the 2014 primary, according to local election board statistics, about 8,000 less than this year.
Four years ago, however, nearly 33,000 unaffiliated voters were able to vote in the primary in contested school board races. This year, none of the races for the six school board seats has more than two candidates, so primary voting was not necessary as up to two candidates can appear on the general election ballot for each seat.