Where I stood on Election Day at 10 in the morning — inside the big gymnasium at the Randallstown Community Center in Baltimore County — the wait to vote was about 30 minutes. That’s not my calculation. I got it from Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones and confirmed it with a voter.
“See that door over there?” Jones said through his face mask, gesturing across the gym to double doors. “It’s 30 minutes to vote from there.”
The line ofsocially-distanced voters went from the double door along the far wall to a corner, turned left along another wall, then made another left along another wall to the central hallway and the voting center. It was a beautiful thing to see.
Already more than 2.2 million Marylanders had voted before Tuesday, and more men and women kept coming on Election Day. The parking lot at the community center was full. The line to vote during the mid-morning hours never shortened.
By the looks of things — my God, all this voting in spite of a pandemic! — you’d think Maryland was a battleground state. But, of course, it’s not.
“Is there any doubt which way Maryland is going to vote?” Sen. Ben Cardin, a lifelong Democrat, asked as he surveyed the long line of voters at Randallstown. The state is solidly blue, with twice as many Democrats as Republicans. And, while the number of independent voters has grown significantly, data from the Maryland State Board of Elections shows that, since September 2016, the ranks of registered Democrats in the state has increased by 117,846 while the number of Republicans has increased by only 1,001. And that’s during the tenure of a Republican governor.
So, no, to answer Cardin’s question, there was little doubt that his party’s standard-bearer, Joe Biden, would carry the state in the presidential race — the one, above all others, that motivated people to vote.
“Is there a local race or ballot question bringing them out?” Cardin asked, again rhetorically. "So I think it’s two things …First, people recognize that voting makes a difference.”
That line hit me at first as quaint and clichéd, but in the next second I realized what the senator was getting at: If Americans hadn’t understood, in a clear and bracing way, that elections have consequences, the 2016 results certainly rang alarms, especially for those who sat it out. Is that what the senator meant?
“Yes,” he said. “People have seen who’s in the White House … And the second reason for the big turnout is to give the election credibility. Trump can say what he wants about it, but how can he challenge the results, when there is such a big turnout?”
In other words, at least for Democrats, coming out to vote this time was a way to not only keep Trump from winning a second term, but make a statement about the electoral process, the foundation of democracy.
“That’s right,” Cardin said. “It’s a statement type of an election. They’ve come out in big numbers to give the process credibility.”
Of course, such a plebiscite is only needed because of Trump’s repeated attacks on mail-in voting, his unfounded claims ofwidespreadfraud and his expressed desire that courts stop states from counting ballots received after Election Day. “Hopefully, the few states remaining that want to take a lot of time after Nov. 3 to count ballots, that won’t be allowed by the various courts,” the president said last week.
Of course, counting ballots received after Election Day has been done for years; it’s part of the process. The man who stood next to me in the community center, Jones, knows that better than anyone. The first time he ran for county council, in 2010, he lost a primary election by 98 votes, and, of course, that included absentee and provisional ballots tallied after the primary.
“Something’s going on,” Cardin said, and, whether wishful thinking or not, you’d have to be made of stone not to sense history in the air.
“People are fed up with what they’ve seen take place over the last four years, that’s loud and clear,” said Adrienne A.Jones, the Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates who came out to greet voters, along with the county executive, John “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr., and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger.
“People are highly motivated,” Jones added. “I’ve met a lot of first-time voters in early voting.”
This week, a veteran poll worker shared an observation with me: In more than 20 years of guiding people to their ballots in Baltimore County, this worker had never seen so many young, Black men show up to vote. “And I mean,” the worker said excitedly, “under 30, yes, but also under 25 years old, voting for the first time.”
Inside the gym, Cardin offered another reason for the big turnout: Trump has found ways to offend almost everybody — minorities, veterans, immigrants, professional football players, to name just a few groups. And then, and not secondarily, there’s his reckless mishandling of the pandemic.
“There are so many things that he said that people took personally,” Cardin said. “I’ve never seen friends, people I know, give money to [Democratic candidates] without even being asked.”
If Biden wins, Cardin said, it will be because Americans let their morals guide them to a better place, a better president, and, with such a robust and resolute turnout, affirmed our elections inviolable.