Short lines and easy-to-use machines helped give area residents a quick, painless introduction to early voting on Friday, voters and election officials reported.
On the first-ever day of early voting in Maryland, participants in the primary elections expressed surprise at the ease with which they moved through the lines.
Charlotte McDowell usually sets aside a few hours to cast her ballot, but this year it took her only about 10 minutes at the Public Safety Training Facility in Northwest Baltimore.
"I can't stand those long lines on [Election Day]. I like to be the early bird," the Howard Park woman said.
In a preliminary count released Friday evening, state election officials said about 9,900 Democrats, 4,000 Republicans and 160 others seized the opportunity to vote ahead of the Sept. 14 primary elections. The early-voting sites are scheduled to open again today, and from Monday through Thursday. Only those voters who are registered to parties may participate.
On Friday, the training center in the old Pimlico Middle School on West Northern Parkway had the feeling of a low-key Election Day — albeit one with a few high-profile voters. Gov. Martin O'Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake both stopped by to cast their ballots.
"I hope people take an opportunity to come out," Rawlings-Blake said. "It's a lot more convenient than waiting in line on the primary voting day."
Candidates and election officials are treating the early primary voting as a dry run for the weeklong period that the polls are due to open before the Nov. 2 general election.
City Board of Elections President Armstead B. Crawley Jones Sr. said officials' familiarity with equipment and the low number of new voters helped smooth the first day of voting. Some officials did wonder whether the room was too small for all the equipment and election judges. Crawley Jones said workers were documenting any problems.
Crawley Jones predicted Sept. 14 would be "slower than usual" because more people were taking advantage of early voting.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said a line of people was waiting at the Annapolis Senior Activity Center when he went to vote about 10:30 a.m.
"It was exactly like voting on Election Day," he said. "Same process."
Marylanders approved early voting in a statewide referendum two years ago. This year's elections are the first to employ the new system.
"I think early voting must have hit the spot because they are really showing up," said Laura Townes, chief election judge at the training center. "It was just amazing to see how many people came out in that first hour."
Irving Settleman, who lives in downtown Baltimore, plans to be out of town on primary day, so he saw early voting as a good alternative to filing an absentee ballot. How long did it take? Less than seven minutes, he said.
Glenn Faith, a chief judge in Baltimore County, said he was pleasantly surprised that more than 200 people came to vote before noon.
"We figured if we had 200 people all day then we were doing good," said Faith, who was supervising activities at the Honeygo Community Center in Perry Hall.
Sheila Geiser of Ellicott City said she voted early at the Howard County senior center because she's leaving for the beach Sunday and won't be back for Election Day. Absentee voting didn't appeal to her, she said.
"I kind of enjoy the process. You get that patriotic feeling," she said.
At the Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia, Concha Tinsley said she was eager to vote, too.
"I wanted to get it over with so I wouldn't forget," she said.
Voters and election officials said early voting was long overdue.
"Any time you can get more voters out — however you do that — is important," said Michael O'Donnell, who lives in Mount Washington.
Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson, Julie Bykowicz and Larry Carson contributed to this article.