During recent election cycles, the turnout of early voters at Carroll County's only early-voting polling place, the Westminster Senior Activities Center on Stoner Avenue, was at times so light that the campaign volunteers and poll workers easily outnumbered voters.
Not so this time around. At around 11 a.m., on Oct. 31, the parking lot at the center was nearly full, and spaces were at such a premium that motorists entering often had to wait for someone else to leave to get a space.
Inside, the line to the voting snaked around from the lobby, down a corridor, then back to the lobby again, nearly doubling back on itself.
At mid-afternoon, the scene was much the same. Traffic was still snarled coming in and out of the senior center, and casting a ballot meant a 20- to 30-minute wait.
"This is beyond what I've ever seen in any election," said Joann Nicholls, of Woodbine, a local campaign volunteer for Mitt Romney and Republican senatorial candidate Ben Bongino.
"But people have told me that today, even though it is crowded, is nothing compared to Saturday. They said that over the weekend they had lines all the way out of the building, and the weather was nasty."
An election judge, who said he was not permitted to give his name to a reporter, agreed, saying, "This is the most I've ever seen. It's been steady since we opened at 8 a.m. There hasn't been a break in the line.
"We're probably getting a lot more people because early voting was canceled Monday and Tuesday (due to Hurricane Sandy passing through the area), and also because the governor has extended the voting hours."
The poll worker said more than 2,000 votes were cast at the senior center on Saturday, but did not yet have a running count for Wednesday, when the polls reopened after the two-day closure. The early voting period was extended after the storm — giving people until Friday, Nov. 2, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., to take advantage of the practice.
Laura Jones, of Sykesville, said Wednesday was her second attempt to vote.
"I came here Saturday and the line was out the door, so I thought I'd try it again today," Jones said. "Even though the line is still long, it seems to be moving pretty fast.
"Also, I thought I better come now and vote early, because what's it going to be like on election day?" she added.
Another voter from Eldersburg said she was pleasantly surprised by how fast the long line was moving. "It only took me 25 minutes to vote," she said.
One poll worker who was busy directing foot traffic and helping voters locate the elusive back of the line, observed that even with the relatively long wait, it's all relative when it comes to early voting. She said casting a ballot in Westminster was a breeze, compared to the ordeal faced by her mother in Garrett County. Up there, she said, they were just dumped on by 30 inches of snow.
General Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6. On that day, voters must vote at the polling place to which they are assigned.
Voters can find their assigned precinct by looking at their voter notification card from the Carroll County Board of Elections, or by going to http://www.elections.state.md.us. Polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For more information, voters may contact the Carroll County Board of Elections at 410-386-2080 or the State Board of Elections at 1-800-222-VOTE (8683).