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Big turnout, decided voters at Laurel early voting center

Prince George's County school board candidate David Murray, who is running uncontested, campaigns outside the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center Thursday afternoon in Laurel on the first day of early voting.
Prince George's County school board candidate David Murray, who is running uncontested, campaigns outside the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center Thursday afternoon in Laurel on the first day of early voting. (Staff photo by Andrew Michaels)

As voters flowed into the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center for the first day of early voting Thursday morning, many said the 2016 presidential candidates have left them at a crossroads in how to cast their ballots.

Around noon on Oct. 27, the center's parking lot remained congested, with residents eager to get to the polls and avoid long lines. Chief election judge Ingrid Johnson said the turnout surpassed her expectations for the first day of early voting.

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"The turnout is way up. We've had a tremendous increase in early voters," Johnson said. "Some people are saying we have had more people today than we had in all the days of early voting in the primary."

Voters appeared pleased with their decisions, she said, and excited to submit their choices.

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Laurel resident Ramatou Fofanah, a first-time voter, said everyone should get out and vote for the presidential election, which she described as "nasty."

"If you don't vote, it's on you and you don't want to regret that," she said.

Fofanah, who was wearing a T-shirt in support of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, voted earlier in the day. Although she started as a supporter of Republican nominee Donald Trump, Fofanah said her opinions quickly changed following Trump's controversial views on the Muslim community.

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.

"The nasty comments he said about Muslims and women and grabbing them, that was a turn off. He's arrogant," Fofanah said. "The reason that made me really connected to [Clinton] is that she's gone through a lot. She's been called all the bad names in the book, but that's not who she is."

People make mistakes, she added, but Clinton would get the job done as president.

Beltsville resident Peter Wichman, a Republican voting for Trump, said he disagreed.

"I think he'll do a much better job than Hillary," Wichman said. "As far as foreign affairs, I think he'll do better. I think he'll run the country better."

Although concerned about this year's presidential election, Nick Orrick, of Riverdale, said he stood outside the center to inform voters of Question D on the ballot, which would add two at-large seats to the Prince George's County Council.

If passed by voters, five council members who have reached term limits will be able to run for reelection to the two at-large seats in 2018, a costly endeavor, Orrick said.

"It's going to cost the county money somewhere in the neighborhood of a million a year," he said. "You have to pay [the new at-large members], they have to have a staff and they've got to have an office."

An additional at-large member would also distract the community, and give the current council members "less say in what goes on."

What Prince George's County Council members fail to accept in their referendum on adding two at-large seats is that the voters who put them in office in the first place have time and again made clear their seats are subject to term limits. They're likely going to vote that way again Nov. 8, and we support them.

Nearby, three-time school board candidate David Murray, who is running uncontested, handed out fliers to incoming voters. Murray said he was happy to see many familiar faces come out to show their support, including Beltsville resident Imani Smith.

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"I'm looking forward to serving," Murray said. "I'm definitely telling people that if they need anything, I'll be there in a month. Imani has voted for me since I began running in 2010."

Smith said she has continually stood by Murray because of his efforts to open communication between the school system, teachers and families.

"He's going to make a difference," Smith said. "I know he needs to be there and it's a wonderful thing. My grandkids need him."

Early voting continues through Thursday, Nov. 3 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Early voting locations for Prince George's County residents include the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center, 7120 Contee Road; College Park Community Center, 5051 Pierce Ave.; and Bowie Gymnasium, 4100 Northview Drive.

Howard County residents can vote early at 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

Laurel residents who live in Anne Arundel County can vote early at Odenton Regional Library, 1325 Annapolis Road; Glen Burnie Regional Library, 1010 Eastway; Severna Park Community library, 45 West McKinsey Road; Annapolis Senior Activity Center, 119 S. Villa Ave.; and Edgewater Community Library, 25 Stepneys Lane.

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