Against a fractious political backdrop, tens of thousands of Marylanders swarmed early voting sites Thursday, eager to take the first opportunity to cast their ballots.
“I’m voting for candidates who reflect the values I’d like to see: kindness, civility and respecting everyone,” said Julie Ayers, 54, of Timonium, who with her son and daughter were part of the largest turnout on the first day of early voting for a midterm election in Maryland. “I’m desperate to see a return to civility and civil discourse.”
According to numbers provided by the Maryland Board of Elections, 87,409* Marylanders cast their ballots on the first day of early voting for the general election.
Early voting has drawn huge numbers this year across the country as a highly motivated electorate seemingly can’t wait to officially register their views, one turnout expert said.
“It’s masses of people,” said Michael P. McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida.
“It’s like Black Friday,” he said. “We’ve never seen anything like this for a midterm election.”
By midday Thursday, more than 12.1 million Americans had already voted, said McDonald, whose United States Elections Project maintains voting statistics. While conventional wisdom says many of the early voters would have voted anyway, there’s something different going on this year, he said.
“There’s only one real explanation for this, and his name is Donald Trump,” McDonald said. “Love him or hate him, he has inflamed passions in this country, and when people are emotionally invested, they turnout to vote.”
The highest turnout on the first day of early voting in Maryland was in 2016, when 123,623 voters cast ballots.
By early afternoon Thursday, one problem had been reported, but it was quickly resolved: Officials temporarily shut down voting at the Crofton Area Library after two suspicious packages were found in the parking lot, but later reopened the site.
The first day of early voting tends to draw among the largest crowds, although human nature being what it is, the last day gets the highest turnout. Polls are open each day from Thursday through Nov. 1, including Saturday and Sunday, between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.
The kickoff of early voting presents an opportunity for the hundreds of candidates on the ballot — including Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic challenger Ben Jealous — to bank the votes of their most ardent supporters.
As of Saturday, there were 3,954,027 eligible, active voters on the rolls for this election in Maryland — a number that is expected to grow throughout the period of early voting. That’s because voters can register during early voting and vote the same day.
Libby Solomon of the Baltimore Sun Media Group contributed to this article.
Crossing party lines
At Mt. Pleasant church in Northeast Baltimore, the first 50 voters represented a mix of Hogan and Jealous supporters.
Alice Green, 64, and her husband, Gregory Green, 72, who live in East Baltimore, voted the straight Democratic ticket — except for governor.
“As far as Trump, can’t deal with him,” Alice Green said. “I voted for Hogan, but I’m a Democrat.. I appreciate what he’s done for Maryland.”
— Luke Broadwater
Riding ‘the blue wave’
Matthew and Julie Fenner of Sykesville said they couldn’t wait for early voting to start, and now they can’t wait to learn the results next month.
“This is the most we’ve ever cared about politics — the last two and a half years,” the 38-year-old editor said.
“We talk about the blue wave,” said her husband Matthew, 45, a clinical research manager. “We want to be a part of the blue wave.”
— Emily Chappell
‘Overwhelming to see’
Edna Dorsey, a retired nurse, arrived to vote at the Randallstown Community Center 15 minutes before polls opened. But already, 104 people were in a line that wrapped around the gymnasium, a number that grew to 201 people by 10 a.m.
“Everybody has had a chance to view what’s been going on and they just want their voices heard,” she said. “It’s overwhelming to see this time of morning.”
It was much the same elsewhere. The Honeygo Run Community Center in Perry Hall had 127 people in line, and the other nine sites had between 30 and 80 voters in line.
Dorsey voted for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous.
“I like him,” she said. “Because he can listen, and I trust him.”
— Pamela Wood
Ed Sherman has been looking forward to the midterms for 2 years. The registered Republican has been incensed by the tone in Washington since 2017 and wanted to get it “on the record” as soon as possible that he doesn’t like the “discourse” President Trump sows.
In the past, he’s crossed party lines in the past but this year, voting at the Miller Library in Ellicott City, he went mostly red, saying it’s healthy for government to be bipartisan.
Sherman, 69, a retired civil engineer, voted for the incumbent Republican governor, Larry Hogan, because he’s “done a good job.” He voted for Allan Kittleman because he has a “strong record” and likes that he’s trying to mitigate flooding in historic Ellicott City.
— Erin B. Logan
Putting ‘nervous energy’ to use
Working at the Arbutus Recreation Center in Southwest Baltimore was Mulugeta Sarbanes of Baltimore. The 25-year-old aspiring medical student said he wanted to turn his “nervous energy” surrounding the midterm elections into something productive by volunteering.
Sarbanes — who is related to Democratic U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes — said he supports Ben Jealous for governor because he wants to expand access to healthcare in the state. Sarbanes said he’s also unhappy with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to cancel the Red Line transit project in Baltimore.
— Cody Boteler
Voting to ‘Make America great again’
Robert Puepke, 76, of Arbutus, was fourth in line to cast an early ballot at the Arbutus Recreation Center in Baltimore County.
The retired police officer said he was voting to “make America great again. Why else?”
He votes early because he never knows what could happen. “Who knows?” he said. “I might drop dead tomorrow.”
— Cody Boteler
*Update: This story has been updated to reflect new early voting projections from the state Board of Elections.