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Marylanders crowd polls on first day of early voting

Turnout for Day 1 of MD early voting eclipsed the number of voters during same period in 2012 by 3:30 p.m.

Delores Moore was hoping to beat the rush Thursday when she got on a bus and headed to an early-voting center in Northeast Baltimore.

But when she arrived at the League for People with Disabilities, site of the early-voting center, she found a line that snaked through the building and kept people waiting more than an hour.

"I just want to get it over with," the 81-year-old Waverly woman said as she left. "I wanted to beat the crowd, but the crowd beat me."

Tens of thousands of Marylanders who turned out for the first day of early voting — 125,914 statewide, including about 9,500 in Baltimore — faced long waits at the busiest polling places. But otherwise, they had smooth experiences, state and local officials said.

The combination of the divisive presidential contest between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, along with the battle for a rare open Senate seat in Maryland and, in Baltimore, a mayoral election, is driving early-voting turnout that officials and observers expect to set records.

More than 430,000 Marylanders cast ballots during early voting in 2012, the first presidential election in which early voting was offered.

Early voting continues through Thursday; polls are open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. This year for the first time, the state is offering same-day voter registration during early voting. A driver's license, utility bill or another proof of residence is required. Same-day registration will not be offered on Election Day, Nov. 8.

Armstead B.C. Jones Sr., Baltimore's elections director, said the four-step paper ballot process slowed voting on Thursday. To save time, he encouraged voters to review, mark up and take the sample ballots they receive in the mail with them as a guide.

Jones said there were a few minor glitches at the six early-voting centers in Baltimore. For example, the ink from some pens bled through the paper sheets, causing the scanner to reject ballots. Those pens were switched out.

"It's going pretty smooth," Jones said Thursday afternoon. "People seem to be very happy, even though they're in line."

The city's primary election in April was marred by irregularities, and state officials ordered the results decertified. State investigators concluded that about 1,700 ballots were handled improperly. A total of about 1,200 were scanned into the tally without judges verifying that the voters were eligible, and 500 provisional ballots were never considered.

Jones said officials trained more than 3,000 election judges to work during the general election.A total of 150 of the most veteran judges are handling the early-voting centers.

And Jones said he personally made sure his team packed the popular "I voted" stickers, which many city voters complained were missing from polling places on primary day.

Linda H. Lamone, the state elections administrator, said she had not been made aware of any problems anywhere in the state. Officials operated six early-voting centers in the city, nine in Baltimore County, five in Anne Arundel County, four in Harford County, three in Howard County and one in Carroll County.

About 40 people lined up outside the McFaul Center in Bel Air before the polls opened at 8 a.m. A tally posted near the entrance showed 205 people voted within the first hour.

Alfred Liebel, 82, said he has voted in every election since 1956. The Bel Air man did not say whether he voted for Clinton or Trump, but he said, "I always wanted a woman to run for president."

"For 200-and-something years, men have messed up this country the best they could," he said. "So give a woman a chance — maybe she'll do a better job."

More than 50 people were waiting outside the Westminster Senior and Community Center in Carroll County when polls opened at 8 a.m.

Lola McDermott said she wanted to make sure her voice was heard as early as possible.

"It's always important," the Finksburg woman said. "I'm voting for Trump this year because we need change."

Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said conventional wisdom holds that negative campaigning suppresses voter turnout. So far, this year is proving different.

"High voter turnout is always good for democracy, even if it's just so people can get it over with," Kromer said.

Roger E. Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore's College of Public Affairs, called it "an urgency in the air."

"There's a sense of, 'We're sick of it, but we've got to get this over with,'" he said.

Beyond the presidential contest, Maryland voters will elect a senator and eight House members. Many counties are also holding local elections.

Running for the open Senate seat are Democrat Chris Van Hollen, Republican Kathy Szeliga and Green Party nominee Margaret Flowers. The winner will succeed Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who is retiring after 30 years.

Running in Baltimore's mayoral election are Democrat Catherine E. Pugh, Republican Alan Walden and Green Party candidate Joshua Harris. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon, a Democrat, is waging a write-in campaign.

Dixon volunteer Joe Stewart waved down voters at the League for People with Disabilities to hand out a campaign flier and explain how they could cast a vote for her. He said he was "guardedly" optimistic about Dixon's chances.

"You got one more chance," he told voters as they headed into the polling place. Dixon narrowly lost the Democratic primary to Pugh.

Dixon visited sites across the city and waved signs at Northern Parkway and Park Heights Avenue in Northwest Baltimore.

Pugh waved signs along Auchentoroly Terrace near the Maryland Zoo before visiting with high school students and stopping by the early-voting center at the Public Safety Training Center in Northwestern Baltimore.

Bob and Dona Garvey of Baltimore's Moravia-Walther neighborhood walked into the League for People with Disabilities before lunchtime ready to vote for Pugh and Clinton, to find the wait was an hour. They turned around.

"We'll be back," said Bob Garvey, 70. "We're not giving up."

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters David Anderson, Andrew Michaels, Jacob deNobel and Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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