Voting was extended by one hour at four polling locations in Baltimore Tuesday evening after the U.S. Senate campaign of Rep. Donna Edwards sought a court order to keep open sites where voting had been delayed.
The order from Circuit Court Althea Handy was handed down in the basement garage of Courthouse East, after a fire and gas leak across the street prompted the evacuation of the building during the after-hours hearing.
Handy said the allegations that four polling sites opened more than 30 minutes late "needs to be remedied."
Baltimore attorney William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr. had filed an injunction to extend the hours at as many as 10 polling locations. "These races are very close," Murphy told Handy. He called extending hours a "simple remedy."
"It's better to be safe than sorry," Murphy said.
The four sites that would remain open were John Eager Howard Elementary School, Beth Am Synagogue, Oliver Multipurpose Center and Pimlico Elementary School.
Elections officials had disputed the delayed opening of several sites, and said the delays that did occur were not uncommon.
"In every election, there will be polling places that open late," said Ann MacNeille, an assistant attorney general representing the Baltimore Board of Elections.
MacNeille said officials had consulted with the state board of elections, which decided not to seek an emergency extension of hours. That would only happen if a "substantial number of polling places are delayed by more than one hour."
Elections officials also disputed whether Edwards could seek relief in court.
The hearing did not begin until 6:08 p.m., just as a fire broke out in the Mitchell Courthouse across the street.
As Murphy put forward witnesses to testify about polling location times, sheriff's deputies approached Handy and informed her there was a gas leak and that the hearing would need to be wrapped up.
Arguments between the two sides continued, until several deputies entered the courtroom and Handy ended the hearing. Everyone in the courtroom left through the rear basement parking garage.
Handy continued the hearing on a sidewalk outside City Hall.
She moved the hearing back into the parking garage after reporters began filming, and handed down her decision at about 7:15 p.m. with traffic humming just steps away.
In addition to seven sites listed in the court filing, a voter reported that one was at the Waxter Senior Center on Cathedral Street. Long lines of voters waited both inside and outside the building.
The complaint had asked that voting be extended until 10 p.m., alleging that a failure to extend the hours would “threaten to prevent thousands of eligible residents from effectively exercising their right to vote in violation of federal and state law.”
Murphy argued the motion on behalf of Edwards, who is running against U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen for the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
Baltimore Sun reporters Kevin Rector, John Fritze and Ian Duncan contributed to this article.