Lines stretched out of Baltimore's early voting stations Thursday as a record number of early voters went to the polls.
As of 8:30 p.m., about 5,000 people had cast ballots in Baltimore — more than four times the number of the first day of early voting in 2011. State officials reported about 37,000 early voters — three times as many as the last presidential race.
"It looks like it's going to be our best year of early-voting ever," said Nikki Baines Charlson, deputy administrator at the State Board of Elections. "The trend has been that early voting is increasing each election."
From West to East Baltimore, thousands of voters headed to the polls to vote ahead of the primary election day. Many said they were motivated by the hotly contested mayor's race in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 10-to-1.
City Councilman Robert Curran attempted to cast a ballot at The League for People with Disabilities on E. Coldspring Lane but found the lines much too long. In Baltimore, races for mayor and City Council are now at the same time as the presidential races — a change intended to increase turnout.
"I walked in and there were 100 people in line," he said. "I've never seen turnout like this to early voting. It's all been about the mayor's race. The only time I remember lines like this was in 2008 when Obama won."
This year, early voting in Baltimore and across the state has a new importance: While registration has closed for the April 26 primary election, people can register and vote on the same day during early voting.
Early voting runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. until April 21. There are 67 early-voting locations around the state, including six in Baltimore and nine in Baltimore County. To register to vote during early voting, residents must bring a document proving their address.
Marylanders' votes matter this year in the national primaries of both parties, which will choose between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side and Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich on the Republican side. There are also competitive races for U.S. Senate, between Democrats Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, and for many City Council seats. Candidates for Maryland's eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives also are on the ballot.
Baltimore's leading mayoral candidates — state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, lawyer Elizabeth Embry, businessman David L. Warnock and City Councilman Carl Stokes, all Democrats — pushed voters to the polls Thursday.
The Pugh campaign hired a bus to pick up supporters around the city and drive them to the polls.
At the Westside Skill Center on Edmondson Avenue, Pugh and supporter Del. Jill P. Carter greeted cheering voters in the afternoon as they got off her bus and headed to the polls.
"I think it's awesome that these many people have taken this much interest across the city," Pugh said. "Everywhere I've gone the lines have been out the door. I don't think people thought that people would take this much interest in the race."
Hours earlier at the same station, Dixon and her supporters worked the crowd, hugging residents and helping them out of cars.
"I love you, Ms. Dixon!" said West Baltimore resident Helena Stewart, who voted for Dixon. "You bring tears to my eyes! Everybody makes mistakes and everybody deserves a second chance."
Even as record numbers of early voters cast ballots, some were raising concerns about an error made by the Baltimore Board of Elections. Baltimore election officials said Thursday they had mistakenly sent letters to 34 ex-offenders saying they might not be able to vote because of their convictions.
Under a state law that took effect in March, people with felony convictions can register to vote as soon as they are released from prison. But shortly after the law took effect, 34 people were "inadvertently processed based on an old procedure," city elections director Armstead B. C. Jones Sr. said in a statement. He said election officials are contacting those people to inform them of the error.
Previously, felons could not vote until they completed probation or parole.
"All of these voters are all eligible to cast a ballot in Maryland's 2016 Presidential Primary election," Jones said.
About 1,200 people cast ballots during the first day of early-voting during the 2011 Baltimore mayor's race won by Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. About 13,500 people statewide voted on the first-day of early voting in the last presidential primary in 2012.