BREAKING NEWS ALERT:
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake glided to victory in the Democratic primary Tuesday, securing the nomination for a full four-year term in the office to which she was appointed last year.
Baltimore voters headed to the polls this morning, casting their ballots for mayor in a crowded primary race that could change the direction of the city.
But as of 7 p.m., less than 17 percent of eligible voters — about 54,000 people — had cast ballots, a number Baltimore City Elections Director Armstead Jones called "light."
He said the city is on pace to have about 20 percent of its eligible voters cast ballots by the end of the day. Jones reported "no major issues" in the morning's voting.
At Fort Worthington Elementary School in East Baltimore, only 44 people had voted within the first hour, election judges said.
East Baltimore resident Lisa McCray said she had nothing against Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, but preferred challenger Catherine Pugh, a state senator. "I like her outlook on things," McCray said, adding that the most important issues for her were schools and crime.
Angela Lyles, 46, of East Baltimore, said she voted for Rawlings-Blake, who assumed the position last year when then-Mayor Sheila Dixon stepped down under a plea agreement to settle corruption and perjury charges.
"I want to give her a full term," Lyles said of Rawlings-Blake. "She needs to get a fair chance."
In the Democratic mayoral primary, Rawlings-Blake faces five challengers: Pugh, Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway, Otis Rolley, Joseph T. "Jody" Landers and Wilton Wilson. That primary, in the overwhelmingly Democratic city, usually determines the next mayor.
Voters will also cast ballots today for City Council President and other council races. City election officials predicted a light turnout.
Robert and Margaret Jackson — an East Baltimore couple married for 56 years — said they came out to the polls early to vote for the candidates, including Rawlings-Blake, endorsed by the AFL-CIO union.
Robert Jackson, 77, said he believed Rawlings-Blake could help improve schools, while his wife said she earned respect for the mayor when Rawlings-Blake attended an event for adult illiteracy.
"That made me see her in a positive light," Margaret Jackson said.
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young stopped by the polling station to greet election judges, he said.
Young said he had been driving around to bus stops encouraging people to vote. "I know they're predicting light turnout, but I hope that's not the case," he said.
Young, who faces multiple challengers to his seat, said he did not take the race lightly. "People need to get out and exercise their right to vote," he said.
At St. Leo's Catholic Church in Little Italy, voters trickled in slowly. By 10:37 a.m., 50 voters had cast ballots; an hour later the count was up to 54.
Alan Shapiro, the chief Democratic election judge, said the location has seen low turnout in recent years, and blamed voter apathy.
On election day in 2010, just 218 voters cast ballots out of the precinct's 1,100 registered voters, he said.
Ed Gross, a retired meteorologist who moved to the city from Washington a decade ago, voted at the historic church for Rolley.
Though he said Rawlings-Blake has "done a good job," Gross said she doesn't seem "very inspired." Gross said he was undecided just a few weeks ago, but heard Rolley on the radio and was impressed.
"I thought he was articulate and he offered some good ideas on how things could change," Gross said. "We pay taxes through the nose and we don't get many services."
Asked why he supported Rolley, he said, "His background as an urban planner who went to MIT and he's young and has fresh ideas and he's not part of the establishment."
His wife, Linda Gross, a retired teacher voted for Rawlings-Blake.
"I think she's steady," said Linda Gross. "I think she deserves a chance to see what she can do on a full term. I think she sometimes gets a bad rap. She's not effusive. I just think she's very realistic about what can be promised."
At the Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary School in the Oliver neighborhood, 142 people had voted by 11:45 a.m.
Daryl Ford, 33, a truck driver, said he voted for Pugh, calling her experience "really impressive." The current mayor, Ford said, "hasn't really done anything."
Keisha English, a stay-at-home mom said she voted for Rawlings-Blake.
English, 32, said she was torn between Rawlings-Blake and Conaway, who she called "a nice person."
"She brought the crime rate down, so I guess that's good," she said. "But she's really not doing it for me."
At Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church at Belair and Moravia roads, Donna Edwards, a 55-year-old nurse, said she voted for Pugh.
"She's closer with the people," Edwards said. "She's more on our level, more committed to helping."
Edwards said she strongly disagrees with Rawlings-Blake on some policing issues.
"She just seems part of the old regime that was," said Edwards. "Stephanie to me is just a yes woman — and it's not yes to the people."
At Hazelwood Elementary/Middle School, 138 people had voted in the first two hours — a turnout that election judge Frances Carr called "sort of light."
Channon Rankin, 29, a former police officer who is now a student, said she voted for Rawlings-Blake because of her work in criminal justice.
"She's in the neighborhoods. I see her throughout the city. … " Rankin said of Rawlings-Blake. "She has a better rapport with police [than past mayors]. Crime is going down."
A retired couple, Angelo and Anita Nucci, said they were voting for Landers because of his focus on tax rates.
"The city will never grow if taxes are so high," said Angelo Nucci, a retired bricklayer who helped build the school in which he was standing.
But Mike Perkins, 61, said Pugh was the best alternative to Rawlings-Blake.
"We need some changes," he said, adding that he supports Pugh's tax reduction plans. "Stephanie Blake is a rubber stamp."
Outside the polling place, 2nd District City Council candidate Brandon M. Scott greeted voters. He chose the location because it had the third-most voters in the city during the last election.
"They've been coming in bunches," he said of turnout.
At Liberty Elementary School in Forest Park, 168 people had voted in the first three hours of balloting.
Barnett Harper, 62, a retired teacher, said he voted for Rawlings-Blake because he's excited about the way she's grown in the job of mayor.
"I've seen her become more confident," he said. "And that makes me feel confident she's the best person to help our struggling city."
Harper said he also supports 6th District Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton because she always sends an aide to his neighborhood's community meetings. "We are pleased with her level of engagement," he said.
Outside, Baltimore firefighter Dana Rucker, 40, was campaigning for Rolley and 8th District council candidate David Maurice Smallwood.
He was mainly interested in seeing Smallwood elected. Rucker felt wronged by Councilwoman Helen Holton, who, he said, favors reducing pension benefits for firefighters.
"We put our lives on the line; this is a dangerous job," he said, adding that Smallwood has pledged not to take money away from firefighters. "He might even give us more."
As campaign workers approached voters, Baltimore City Board of Elections President Lawrence Cager stopped by to vote. Seeing that the workers were too close to the polling stations, Cager paced out 100 feet from the building and ordered them to stand behind that line.
"They're just too close," he said.
Sun reporter Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.