After a week of early voting, Howard County residents across 17 polling centers joined the rest of the country to cast ballots for local and national races Tuesday.
At voting sites across Columbia, lines were minimal, if not nonexistent, Tuesday morning.
Tamera Price, 63, was first in line to vote at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia. Price arrived at 6:15 a.m., dancing in place to stay warm in the gusty, cold winds.
Price said she had requested a mail-in ballot but never received one in the mail. After conversations with election officials, she said she was told her only choice would be to vote in person.
“I had no choice because I needed to vote,” Price said.
At Hammond High School in Columbia, voting took Ronald Brown less than 5 minutes Tuesday morning.
Brown, 60, said he didn’t get the chance to vote early, but he wasn’t nervous about lines on Election Day. His main concern was the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This world, and this country, is too crazy,” said Brown, a Laurel resident. “[President Donald Trump] has not handled the pandemic well. He’s not the right man for the job.”
It took Jocelyn Faro 5 minutes to vote at Long Reach High School. Faro, 26, was out of town during early voting and came back late Monday to ensure she could vote in person Tuesday.
Faro works as a nurse and said her vote was focused on candidates who were going to change the trajectory of the pandemic.
“It’s incredibly frustrating watching people not believe in something I’m seeing before my eyes,” Faro said.
In the western part of Howard County, Helen Tuel voted just before 11 a.m. at Glenelg High School.
Tuel, 77, said voting in person on Election Day was a matter of convenience for her. For the past 25 years, Tuel has voted in person at Glenelg High, and she said this year would be no different.
Tuel and her husband came prepared for a potentially long wait. They brought reading materials, their canes, food and water just in case. However, like many early voting sites in Howard, the line at Glenelg High was short and voters were moving in and out of the site swiftly.
Lines in the evening were also short or nonexistent. At Mt. Hebron High School in Ellicott City, Ryan Johnson, 20, voted for the first time in his life.
“Voting is essential,” Johnson said. “It’s important. Young people need to realize we need to vote. It’s how we do it as American citizens.”
A few minutes before the polls closed at Reservoir High School in Fulton, Steven William, 28, of Scaggsville, said he hopes this election leads to higher turnout in future elections, too.
“The current situation we’re in definitely isn’t good. Even though it sucks voting in a pandemic, I think this is the most important time to vote,” William said.
“At the end of the day, it’s our voices being heard.”
Prior to Election Day, a record number of Howard County residents had already voted. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, voters across the county requested mail ballots at a higher rate than almost any other jurisdiction in the state, second only to Montgomery County, and voted early in-person more than any year in history, according to election officials.
Nearly 108,000 Howard County residents requested a vote-by-mail ballot by the Oct. 20 deadline. As of Nov. 2, almost 91,000 of those ballots had been received by the Howard County Board of Elections. Those ballots, as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3, could continue trickling in through Nov. 13.
In addition to those who chose to vote via a mail ballot, approximately 60,000 Howard County residents voted in person before Election Day at one of the county’s five early voting centers. The first day of early voting on Oct. 26 had long lines in the morning, as a single-day record of 11,580 people voted throughout the day, according to election officials. The lines subsided as the day and week of early voting continued.
The 60,715 people who voted early during the eight days before Election Day this year is slightly higher than the 59,054 people who did so in 2016; however, by percentage, 2016 was higher, as the number of registered voters in the county has increased by about 19,000 voters in the past four years.
Overall, at least 152,270 people cast their ballots before Election Day in Howard, with up to about 16,000 mail ballots that were requested by voters but have yet to be returned to the elections office.
With about 226,000 active registered voters in the county, the early voting turnout represents about 67% of the county’s voters and 93% of the total turnout from the 2016 general election (163,668). In 2016, Howard County’s total turnout was 78.97%, the highest percentage of any county in the state.
The election in Howard County featured five Board of Education races — one for each district — and one race for Howard County Circuit Court judge. Howard County’s ballot also featured three county referendum questions: whether to allow the County Council to set dates for drawing new council district borders; whether to shorten the terms of citizen boards from five years to three; and whether to expand the classes of people protected from discrimination by the county charter to include “disability, color, national origin, age, occupation, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status and personal appearance.”