About 10 voters were waiting to cast ballots Thursday, the first day of weeklong early voting, as the Howard County Fairgrounds polling station in West Friendship opened.
In addition to state and federal races, Howard’s 211,820 registered voters have choices for county executive, in four of five County Council districts, the school board, sheriff, register of wills and chief prosecutor.
By 4 p.m.,more than 4,000 people had cast ballots. Columbia and Ellicott City polling places account for 3,600, according to Guy Mickley, director of Howard’s Board of Elections.
“It has been heavy but steady,” said Mickley, who reported the Columbia voting station had a line at 9:15 this morning, 45 minutes before polls opened.
Mickley said the turnout is higher than normal— perhaps because early voting is “catching on.” He said it is too early to tell if turnout this cycle is higher. During a typical midterm gubernatorial race, 18 to 20 percent of registered voters vote early.
“Everything is running very smoothly,” Mickley said.
Irving E. Gaither, 55, of Florence, said he has voted primarily Democrat for the past 25 years. Gaither voted for one Republican candidate, incumbent state Sen. Gail Bates in the 9th Legislative District, which includes parts of Howard and Carroll counties.
Gaither said he lobbied in Annapolis for Bates and said “she listened, she made a connection with me ... [making her] someone I would vote for.”
Voting for Democrat Calvin Ball in the county executive race, was a “no-brainer,” for Gaither, a unit secretary at Frederick Memorial Hospital.
“I had to vote for him,” Gaither said. “We see the same on many things.”
Ball, a county councilman, is trying to unseat Allan Kittleman, a Republican.
Michael Lazarus, 53, of West Friendship, said he enjoys early voting because “it’s convenient and I can do it any time over the span of a week instead of one day.”
Lazarus, an energy manager, is a registered Libertarian who believes people need more choices than just Democrat and Republican, however, he voted Republican in the governor's race.
“I certainly voted for Larry Hogan,” Lazarus said. “I think he’s the best governor we’ve had in my lifetime.”
Hogan, who is seeking a second term, faces Ben Jealous, a Democrat and former NAACP president.
Lazarus, like Gaither, said he also voted for Bates for state senator. Lazarus has also been following the County Council race, specifically for District 5, where Republican Councilman Greg Fox can’t seek re-election because of term limits.
Not knowing the two candidates vying for Fox’s seat — David Yungmann, a Republican, and Democrat China Williams — Lazarus decided to follow the race to learn more about the political hopefuls.
Gaither decided to participate in early voting because he will be unable to vote Nov. 6 due to his work schedule.
“I have to work on Election Day, 7 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.,” he said. “I wouldn’t have a chance to vote.”
Instead of voting absentee, Gaither came out for early voting because “I think it’s important to vote with your fellow citizens.”
In Ellicot City, William Link, 68, had been sitting in the crisp autumn air outside Miller Library for nearly two hours, where he recalled his political activism from years ago.
“This harkens back to times when I was on the street campaigning for the school board in Jersey City,” Link said.
Link said he typically votes on general Election Day. But after missing his chance to vote one year, he always votes early.
In most political elections, Link likes to mix it up. Sometimes he votes Republican, sometimes he votes Democrat. But this time, he voted straight blue. “We need a general change,” he said.
The registered Republican, said he voted for Jealous because he believes he is the change younger generations will need. “Jealous has the ‘Bernie Sanders style’ and is commitment for inclusion people of color and women need,” Link said.
He voted for Ball because he believes he will “raise the level of respect for teachers,” he said. Although Link thinks highly of Kittleman, he sees Ball as a stronger supporter for teachers.
“Teacher are underrated and underpaid,” Link said.
Ed Sherman said he has been looking forward to the midterms for two years. The tone and rhetoric emanating from Washington, D.C., have incensed the registered Republican since 2017. He choose to vote on the first day of the cycle because he wanted to get it “on the record” he doesn’t like the “discourse” President Trump sows.
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Sherman, 69 and a retired civil engineer, supports both Republican and Democrats. He voted for Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. This cycle, he voted mostly red. He believes it healthy for governments to be bipartisan.
Sherman voted for Hogan because he’s “done a good job” so far. He voted for Kittleman because he has a “strong record” and likes he’s trying to mitigate flooding in historic Ellicott City. He voted for Bob Flanagan, a Republican, so there is balance in the state legislature. He always votes for U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings. He also voted for Liz Walsh, a Democratic candidate vying for County Council, because she has a similar background as him.
Early voting runs through Nov. 1, with early voting centers open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Nov 1.
Nearly half of the county’s voters are Democrats. There are 55,329 registered Republicans and 47,127 unaffiliated voters.
In addition to the statewide gubernatorial race, the Maryland comptroller and attorney general are on the ballot. Howard County includes three districts for the U.S. House of Representatives, where incumbent are seeking new, 2-year terms.