Early voting machines are set up at Randallstown Community Center. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)
Gubernatorial candidate Rushern L. Baker III gathered Wednesday with volunteers in his campaign’s new Baltimore office to mobilize their efforts on the eve of early voting, which begins Thursday across Maryland.
The Prince George’s County executive was joined at the Howard Street office by a dozen elected officials and Democratic luminaries, including former Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Baltimore County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis.
Venetoulis told Baker’s staff that organizational efforts can account for 3 percent of a vote, enough to tilt the balance in a crowded Democratic primary for governor. Everyone, he said, must activate their networks to get out for early voting.
“Drag them out,” Venetoulis said. “This election is going to be won by the people who get out there.”
Democratic rival Ben Jealous, meanwhile, visited a Baltimore hair salon to unveil proposals to boost the state’s economy. State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. announced a $5 billion school construction plan. Krish Vignarajah planned to announce a $350 million fund for infrastructure projects.
Maryland election officials are bracing for increased turnout as early voting for the primary election begins Thursday — and campaigns are rallying their supporters to fight for every vote.
The state has expanded early voting centers to 78 locations this year, up from 67 two years ago.
“We are expecting an increase in early voting,” said Nikki Baines Charlson, deputy administrator of the State Board of Elections. “There are more early voting locations. Generally, as a percentage of turnout, early voting has gone up every year since it’s been introduced.”
Early voting runs from Thursday through next Thursday, from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. at centers across the state. Primary Election Day is June 26. The winner of the Democratic primary will challenge Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in November.
There are 11 centers each in Prince George’s, Montgomery and Baltimore counties. There are seven centers each in Baltimore and Anne Arundel County and four each in Howard and Harford counties.
K.C. Kelleher, digital organizer for Communities United, said her organization is helping voters get to the polls in West Baltimore and in South Baltimore’s Cherry Hill neighborhood.
During early voting, Maryland residents can register and vote on the same day. To register, a voter must bring a document proving his or her address. Same-day registration is not available on Election Day.
Maryland has 3.9 million registered voters. They include 2.1 million Democrats and 1 million Republicans. More than 700,000 voters are unaffiliated.
A new Baltimore Sun-University of Baltimore poll has found that with less than three weeks until the Democratic primary election for governor, two candidates have broken away from the crowded pack, though a huge swath of voters are undecided and haven't been paying attention to the race.
Communities United plans to run a shuttle throughout Cherry Hill on Friday to take residents to the new early voting center at Carter G. Woodson Elementary School and then throw a poll party for everyone who voted, Kelleher said.
The organization works with low-income residents. It plans to drive a van around West Baltimore on Tuesday and Wednesday under a law approved in 2016.
“We’re hoping to register a lot of people through same-day registration,” Kelleher said. “There are still some in the ex-offender community who aren’t aware they are now eligible to vote. When you’re in prison you don’t always get a steady stream of news.”
In increase in turnout for early voting won’t necessarily mean more voters in the election, state officials said. The 2014 primary election drew fewer than 22 percent of registered voters.
“For the most part we’re seeing Election Day voters going to early voting,” Charlson said.
With several competitive races throughout the state, campaigns were ratcheting up the rhetoric.
During his own Baltimore campaign stop Wednesday, Jealous announced an economic development plan promising to support a $15 minimum wage and government jobs to people who can’t find private employment.
“The sort of interpersonal stuff between politicians, frankly, makes most voters depressed and I really don’t want to give volume to that,” Jealous said.
After largely refraining from criticizing each other directly, Jealous and Baker began exchanging barbs on Twitter this week.
Outside supporters of Jealous are pouring nearly $1 million into the final two weeks of the Democratic primary campaign. Baker tweeted: “Meet the new politics, same as the old politics.”
Jealous responded, accusing Baker of being bought by businesses.
“A guy who takes 40 percent of his contributions from corporations can’t possibly be trusted to tell the truth about politics as usual,” Jealous wrote. “We can trust you to tell the truth about that about as much as we can trust the graduation rates in your county.”
Some sought to grab voters’ attention by making bold promises.
Madaleno’s $5 billion school construction plan is modeled on the $1 billion initiative to renovate and build new schools in Baltimore.
Vignarajah, a former policy adviser to Michelle Obama, was set to announce a $350 million fund on Thursday for infrastructure projects to address flooding in Maryland, including the deadly flash flood that destroyed Ellicott City’’s Main Street last month.
In the Republican primary for Baltimore County executive, candidate Al Redmer Jr. called a news conference Wednesday at his Timonium campaign headquarters to elaborate on allegations he made against opponent Del. Patrick L. McDonough in a recent TV ad.
“I’ve watched my opponent now for almost a year engage in some of the most brazen and shameful fake news campaigning that I’ve ever seen, where he just continually makes stuff up,” said Redmer, the state insurance commissioner.
McDonough countered that Redmer must be scared.
“He’s desperate,” McDonough said. “Polls indicate that he’s behind.”
A Sun/University of Baltimore poll released this week showed that McDonough was leading the race, 39 percent to 34 percent.
The campaign for Baltimore state’s attorney — a three-way race between incumbent Marilyn J. Mosby and challengers Ivan Bates and Thiru Vignarajah — was also growing more negative.
The three Democrats took turns blasting one another during a debate Wednesday on Larry Young’s morning radio show.
“Mrs. Mosby’s record is terrible,” said Thiru Vignarajah, a former city prosecutor and Maryland deputy attorney general. “Mr. Bates’ record is even worse.”
Bates, a longtime defense attorney, shot back.
“I don’t think he knows the difference between North Avenue and Northern Parkway,” said Bates, also a former city prosecutor.
Mosby said Vignarajah wants to win at all costs. She said Bates “put out so much misinformation that it’s unfair for the voters.”
There are competitive races for most of Baltimore’s state Senate and delegate seats. And voters across Maryland will vote on candidates for Congress and county councils and executives.
Charlson said she expected crowds this Thursday and then Wednesday and Thursday of next week.
“The busiest days are the first day and the last two days,” Charlson said. “For voters who want to get in and out quickly, Saturday and Sunday typically have the least traffic.”