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Long lines, waits as state sets more early voting records

Turnout remained strong Friday during the final day of early voting, with more long lines and waits at several centers.

By 10 p.m., 425,565 Marylanders – more than 12 percent of eligible voters – had cast their ballots during early voting.

That far exceeded the six-day standard of 219,601 set during the gubernatorial election of 2010, the state’s first experience with early voting.

Turnout Thursday was the strongest yet, with 97,750 casting their ballots.  Eying the lines, at least one state lawmaker said he would file legislation to expand the number of early voting centers for future elections.

“Democracy delayed is democracy denied,” Sen. James Rosapepe, a College Park Democrat, said in a statement. “I've heard repeated complaints from my constituents about the long lines and waiting times of over two hours to vote at the small number of early voting locations available across the state.”

The state opened 46 early voting centers, including at least one in every county. Rosapepe, a member of the Senate’s election law subcommittee, said his bill would authorize local boards of elections to open as many early voting locations as they believed necessary to keep estimated maximum waiting times under 15 minutes.

“Voters, Democrats as well as Republicans and Independents, want the opportunity to exercise their right to vote without unjustified delays,” he said. “Clearly some of the delays were caused by the hurricane, but not all of them.”

Early voting had been scheduled to run from Saturday through Thursday. As Hurricane Sandy approached, Gov. Martin O’Malley ordered voting centers to close on Monday and Tuesday. But he later added another voting day on Friday, and extended the hours the polls have stayed open.

Elections officials say adding more days would not be possible because poll workers need time to transition to the regular Election Day vote next Tuesday.

Turnout has been steady throughout the early vote. The weakest day – 55,947 on Sunday, with the storm bearing down on the Eastern Seaboard – was stronger than the strongest day in 2010.

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