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Howard County School Board candidates Vicky Cutroneo, left, and Mavis Ellis campaign outside the Bain Center on Oct. 27 in Columbia.
Howard County School Board candidates Vicky Cutroneo, left, and Mavis Ellis campaign outside the Bain Center on Oct. 27 in Columbia. (Staff photo by Andrew Michaels)

In what many are describing as an unsettling and stressful presidential election, Howard County residents say they were eager to get to the polls on Thursday for early voting, which began at 8 a.m.

More than 50 voters formed a line inside Columbia's Bain Center around 7:30 a.m. on Thursday and flooded the voting booths when the clock struck 8 a.m.

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Despite a steady drizzle of rain, a 40-person line stretched the breadth of the Miller Branch library in Ellicott City in the afternoon.

Guy Mickley, Howard County's election director, said the turnout during the first day of early voting was higher than turnout on the first day of the 2012 presidential election. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 1,800 people had voted at the Miller and Bain locations.

"It's been steady, but this presidential election might tick a little higher," Mickley said Thursday afternoon. "Turnout has been very good."

Columbia couple Tom Mungo and Chris Speer said they're both ready for the election to end as both presidential candidates are not what that had hoped for the country.

Early voting for the Nov. 8 presidential elections begins Thursday, Oct. 27 and continues through Thursday, Nov. 3. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

"For us being a gay married couple, this is a frightening election," Mungo said. "There are a lot of things we need to protect for our rights and ourselves as human beings. After 27 years, this is the first time I've ever been afraid to vote."

While the rights movement in the LGBTQ community has been progressive in the last eight years under the Obama administration, Speer said, he is uncertain of its future with either presidential candidate.

"Every election that I can remember I thought, 'Wow, can it get any worse?'" Speer said. "I'm shocked at how much worse it got. You have to wonder where the bottom really is and I'm hoping this is the bottom."

Columbia resident Marijane Monck and Dayton resident Mary Jo Neville said they wanted to cast their votes at the earliest possible moment.

"We are nasty women!" Monck and Neville shouted outside the Bain Center, referring to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's comment to Democrat Hillary Clinton during the final presidential debate.

Clinton is the only suitable choice for president, Neville said.

"I feel great about the election. I was for Hillary before we knew who any of her possible opponents were," she said. "Of course, I can't stand her opponent."

"To me, it's a no-brainer," Monck added. "I've heard people say, 'Oh, isn't this a funny election?' I don't find any of it funny. I find it very scary and I'm very fearful for what happens after the election. At the same time, I'm hopeful that we maintain our civility and move forward."

After voting, Monck and Neville stood outside the center to show support for school board challengers Kirsten Coombs, Christina Delmont-Small and Mavis Ellis. Two more challengers running for three seats, Vicky Cutroneo and Robert Miller, also campaigned outside the center on Thursday.

Candidate Janet Siddiqui remains the sole incumbent in the school board election, and has been on the board since 2007.

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Five challengers and one incumbent are vying for three seats on Howard County's school board in a contested election challengers believe is key to salvage lost accountability and transparency in the school system's leadership.

Following the release of a state audit of the school system last week, which found issues in the school system's financial practices, Ellis said her top priority is to inform taxpayers of where their money is going and how it's spent.

"There have been so many concerns about our budget, so taxpayers should be here voicing their opinion," Ellis said. "My goal is to serve the students' families, educators and community members in Howard County. I'm not the loudest person in the room, but I know how to get things done."

After garnering the most votes during the primary with 34,200 votes, Coombs said she feels her message of necessary communication between leaders, elected officials, parents and school staff is reaching the community. The audit's release was quite startling, she said, as a parent and individual with a business and accounting background.

"I started my career as an auditor, so when the audit findings came out I was excited in a way that an accountant can be but very distressed about some of the issues in there," Coombs said. "I'm even more distressed and angry about our data privacy and data security. I wasn't surprised by the audit findings, but it only adds to my feelings that I'm doing this for the right reasons and bring a lot to the board."

Miller and Cutroneo also campaigned outside the Bain Center Thursday morning.

"I feel more strongly about the need for changing the culture of the school board," Miller said, a retired teacher of 34 years. "I've just seen more and more things where there's been a lack of honesty and openness, so it has cemented how strongly I feel about the changes that need to happen."

Early voting for the Nov. 8 presidential elections begins Thursday, Oct. 27 and continues through Thursday, Nov. 3. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

While remaining cautiously optimistic, Cutroneo said she was still happy about her standings in the primary in April, where she finished fifth of 11 candidates, including incumbents Ann De Lacy and Ellen Flynn Giles, who were knocked out of the running.

"I like to think I had a little something to do with knocking two incumbents out," Cutroneo said. "I think I'd be a great board member, but I'm really pleased with what I've accomplished. I know I'm a long shot."

During early voting Thursday at the Miller Branch library in Ellicott City, school board candidate Christina Delmont-Small campaigned at the parking lot entrance. Delmont-Small said the branch was very busy from the start as many voters seemed educated on the potential candidates.

Delmont-Small and Coombs campaigned in the rain outside the Miller branch for at least seven hours Thursday.

"The board of education is a very important race," Delmont-Small said. "It is one race that is going to touch every single voter because in Howard County the majority of our government taxes go to the school system."

As a challenger, Delmont-Small reinforced Ellis' thoughts on keeping taxpayers in the loop regarding the school's money management.

Early voting for the 2016 presidential elections continues through Thursday, Nov. 3 at the following three polling locations: the Ridgley's Run Community Center, 8400 Mission Road, Jessup; Miller Branch library, 9421 Frederick Road, Ellicott City; and the Bain Center, 5470 Ruth Keeton Way, Columbia.

This story has been updated.

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