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‘This is personal for me’: Howard County voters flock to sites for first day of early voting

By 6:45 a.m. Monday, the line of early voters at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia wrapped around the building with hundreds in line.

Armon Wilson was the first in line to vote. The 19-year-old woke up at 4 a.m. and walked an hour in the sprinkling rain to get in line by 5:15 a.m.

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“This is the earliest I’ve ever gotten up for anything willingly,” Wilson said.

For the nearly two hours he spent in line until early voting centers opened at 7 a.m., Wilson said he switched between playing games on his cellphone and reading — while also doing a lot of pacing.

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“I’m here to show older people [that] younger people, we vote,” Wilson said. “We gotta back up talk with action.”

The line continued to grow for the first hour of early voting in Maryland, with voters glacially taking two socially distanced steps forward at a time.

Monday was the first day of early voting in Maryland and the first time early voting has been offered in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

By 5 p.m. Monday, 125,387 had voted in person, state officials said, breaking the record of 123,623 on the first day of early voting in the 2016 presidential election. With the first-day early voting turnout, plus the mail-in ballots cast so far, 1.1 million Marylanders have voted.

Guy Mickley, director of the Howard County Board of Elections, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday night about how many voters cast ballots in the county on the first day of early voting.

Susan Jones got to Wilde Lake about 15 minutes after Wilson, ultimately standing in line for nearly two hours.

“I was concerned about lines,” said Jones, 82. “We wanted to make sure our vote counted.”

That was Wendy Blackston’s concern, too. The 55-year-old pharmacist said she’d never waited in a line that long before to vote.

“I planned this vote, made sure it counted,” Blackston said. “I feel like our country is going in the wrong direction. Hopefully we can establish civility and governance.”

A few miles away at Long Reach High School in Columbia, Jan Kilby was waiting in what she called a 200-person line.

Kilby, a nurse from Ellicott City, took the day off work to vote. When she initially saw the long line, she said she nearly left but was encouraged by the people waiting alongside her to stay.

“If I did not vote, I would feel guilty and hollow,” she said. “I exercised my right. Whether or not these issues are solved, I didn’t do nothing; I came to vote.”

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Kilby was impressed by the efficiency and precautions taken at the early voting site. She said there was hand sanitizer and masks readily available, and each voter was given an unused pen wrapped in plastic to vote with.

Mireille Nkonghl, 33, voted for the second time in her life Monday morning at Long Reach High.

Nkonghl, a Hanover resident, said she worried about voting by mail because of problems she heard people were having with the signature component of the ballot.

“I personally like the idea of voting in person,” said Nkonghl, a clinical researcher. “This is personal for me, as a Black woman, as an immigrant who came here as a child and as a mom.”

In the future Nkonghl said she’s going to engage her 4-year-old daughter in the process. “I personally feel bad for the other times I didn’t vote. But [voting] is going to become a routine for me.”

The lines died down at both Long Reach and Wilde Lake high schools as the day continued. By 7 p.m., no more than a few voters were standing outside in line.

Just before lunchtime, there was a consistent flow in and out of Marriotts Ridge High School in Marriottsville. The lines were much shorter than the two Columbia locations Monday.

Christina Lambert, 33, said it only took her 10 minutes from the time she lined up to vote to the time she walked out of the high school.

Lambert, a Marriottsville stay-at-home mom, said this was her first time voting in an election. “There’s just so much craziness happening right now,” she said.

At 4 p.m., none of the county’s five early voting sites had more than 10 people waiting in line. About two hours later, though, the line at Reservoir High School in Fulton was wrapped around the building with about 100 voters waiting.

Several people at Reservoir, like Shanna Evering, brought their children to wait with them after the work day ended. Evering, 41, of Fulton, said it’s important for her 9-year-old daughter to witness her parents go through the voting process.

“I think it’s necessary,” Evering said. “I think it’s how they grow up understanding what we do here in America. It’s normalizing our constitutional rights for her.”

Evering said she decided to vote Monday and wait through the long line because she was a little anxious about both voting by mail and voting on Election Day.

“The mail voting made me feel a little reluctant,” she said. “I wanted to vote in person, but I was also nervous about what the conditions could look like on Election Day. I just wanted to make sure I was prepared and got it done today.”

While more than 120,000 people across the state voted in person by 5 p.m. Monday, some voters, like Sonny Goel, decided to vote by mail.

Goel, 51, of Columbia, dropped his mail ballot off at Wilde Lake High’s drop box Monday night.

“I was going to vote in person because I wanted my vote to count. But my sister lives in Ohio, and she had to sit in line for an hour to vote,” Goel said. “I didn’t want that problem to happen to me that could shut me out from voting or have issues voting. I went ahead at the last minute last week to have my mail ballot sent to me.”

When Goel went to submit his mail ballot Monday night, he took a selfie and a video with his 12-year-old son after dropping it in.

“We know this will be a monumental election in our history,” he said. “I wanted him to be a part of it, so he could tell his kids and my grandkids at some point about this election in the middle of a pandemic and what it was like.”

As of Monday, about 1.6 million of Maryland’s 4.1 million active registered voters (40.9%) had requested mail ballots. Howard County residents, however, requested mail ballots at a higher percentage (47%) than any county in the Baltimore area and second only to Montgomery County (56%) in the state. Howard County has approximately 226,000 active registered voters, and as of Friday 107,554 of them had submitted vote-by-mail requests to the Howard County Board of Elections by the Oct. 20 deadline. The total number of mail ballot requests in the county is up to 107,760 due to walk-in absentee ballot requests.

About 66,000 completed mail ballots had been received as of Monday by the Howard County elections office either via the United States Postal Service or the nine drop boxes located throughout the county. That number represents almost 62% of the mail ballots that were requested of the county elections office.

While Wilson was the first person to vote at Wilde Lake High on Monday morning, D’Angelo Jackson was the last one to vote at the school in Columbia. Jackson, 25, of Columbia, didn’t have to wait in a long line like those who voted in the morning at Wilde Lake High. He entered the voting center at 7:55 p.m. and left at 8:05 p.m.

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Jackson, who is Black, said he believes the presidential election between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden is “very important.”

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“I’m not really a politics guy or anything like that, but there’s a lot in the world that’s been happening with Trump in office, and I think he should be out of office,” said Jackson, a 2014 Wilde Lake High graduate. “It’s been horrible for all of us.”

Howard County has five early voting centers open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Nov. 2:

  • Long Reach High School, 6101 Old Dobbin Lane, Columbia — gym and auxiliary gym
  • Marriotts Ridge High School, 12100 Woodford Drive, Marriottsville — gym and auxiliary gym
  • Meadowbrook Athletic Complex, 5001 Meadowbrook Lane, Ellicott City — multi-purpose room
  • Reservoir High School, 11550 Scaggsville Road, Fulton — gym and auxiliary gym
  • Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia — cafeteria and gym

In addition to in-person voting, there are nine drop boxes for ballots available through Election Day. The deadline to put a mail ballot in a drop box is 8 p.m. Nov. 3.

  • Howard County Board of Elections, 9770 Patuxent Woods Drive, Suite 200, Columbia
  • Elkridge Landing Middle School, 7085 Montgomery Road, Elkridge
  • Laurel Woods Elementary School, 9250 N. Laurel Road, Laurel
  • Lisbon Elementary School, 15901 Frederick Road, Lisbon
  • Long Reach High School
  • Marriotts Ridge High School
  • Meadowbrook Athletic Complex
  • Reservoir High School
  • Wilde Lake High School

For in-person voting on Election Day, Howard County voters will have 17 voting centers to choose from. Unlike in past years, voters will be able cast their ballots from any center in the county, rather than being required to vote at a specific polling location. The voting centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

  • Atholton High School, 6520 Freetown Road, Columbia — cafeteria and gym
  • Centennial High School, 4300 Centennial Lane, Ellicott City — cafeteria and gym
  • Elkridge Landing Middle School — cafeteria and gym
  • Glenelg High School, 14025 Burntwoods Road, Glenelg — cafeteria and gym
  • Hammond High School, 8800 Guilford Road, Columbia — gym
  • Howard High School, 8700 Old Annapolis Road, Ellicott City — gym and auxiliary gym
  • Laurel Woods Elementary School — gym and gym 2
  • Lisbon Elementary School — cafeteria and gym
  • Long Reach High School — gym and auxiliary gym
  • Marriotts Ridge High School — gym and auxiliary gym
  • Meadowbrook Athletic Complex — multi-purpose room
  • Mt. Hebron High School, 9440 Old Frederick Road, Ellicott City — cafeteria and gym
  • Oakland Mills High School, 9410 Kilimanjaro Road, Columbia — gym and auxiliary gym
  • Patuxent Valley Middle School, 9151 Vollmerhausen Road, Savage — cafeteria and gym
  • Reservoir High School — gym and auxiliary gym
  • River Hill High School, 12101 Clarksville Pike, Clarksville — cafeteria
  • Wilde Lake High School — cafeteria and gym

In addition to the presidential and statewide races, the general election in Howard County also features five Board of Education races — one for each district — and one race for Howard County Circuit Court judge.

See what those candidates had to say about their reasons for running: Circuit Court judge | District 1 | District 2 | District 3 | District 4 | District 5

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