Maryland’s eight-day early voting period for the Nov. 6 general election begins Thursday at a time when it is becoming increasingly common for voters to get a jump on Election Day.
The kickoff of early voting presents an opportunity for the hundreds of candidates on the ballot — including Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic challenger Ben Jealous — to bank the votes of their most ardent supporters. And campaigns around the state are mobilizing to do just that.
“Any vote that’s already been cast is a vote you know is already there,” said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College.
Early voting was originally a Democratic initiative in Maryland, and voters of that party adopted the practice in greater numbers than Republicans. But the GOP in the state is stepping up its efforts with each election.
“I think Republicans are seeing they might as well get their voters fired up and bank their votes as well,” Eberly said.
Hogan plans to mark the start of early voting Thursday in a series of television interviews, followed by a visit to an early voting site at Honeygo Run Community Center in Perry Hall.
“We’ve got a very robust and aggressive get-out-the-vote operation — for early voting and for Election Day,” said Hogan campaign spokesman Doug Mayer.
Jealous plans to spend Thursday visiting early voting locations in the city of Baltimore and Montgomery County. In the following days, he is expected to visit polling places in other parts of the state.
“The Jealous campaign and Democratic coordinated campaign have built an impressive field operation and the early vote numbers will reveal that the Democratic electorate is energized and looking for change,” said Jealous spokeswoman Jerusalem Demsas.
It isn’t just the candidates who are promoting early voting.
For instance, a grassroots and nonpartisan organization for women of color called Black Girls Vote plans to bring at least 300 voters ages 18 to 25 to the polls Thursday. The group intends to use social media to mobilize at least 2,018 voters from Baltimore-area high schools and universities, including Morgan State and Towson.
As of Saturday, there were 3,954,027 eligible, active voters on the rolls in Maryland for the general election, according to the state Board of Elections. And that number is only expected to grow throughout early voting because voters can register to vote and cast ballots during that period.
One of the arguments in favor of early voting was that it might bolster overall turnout, but the results don’t seem to bear that out. Eberly said studies show early voting has cannibalized Election Day turnout.
“There’s no indication that early voting has resulted in boosting turnout — and that’s statewide and nationally,” he said.
He said what would increase turnout would be to allow voters to register and cast ballots on Election Day — a proposal that is on the ballot statewide this year as Question 2.
Early voting does have critics.
Former Montgomery County Councilman Phil Andrews has called for an end to early voting, arguing it deprives voters of information they might have learned had they waited until Election Day. Andrews, a Democrat, also contends that early voting gives an edge to well-financed incumbents, who can better afford to get their message out earlier in the campaign season.
Others have concerns about the costs to local governments of staffing the polls for an extra eight days, though Maryland’s early voting period is modest compared with some states. There are several states — the closest of which is New Jersey — where early voting starts more than 40 days before Election Day and continues up until Monday of that week.
But voters seem to like the convenience of choosing when to vote, even if early voting doesn’t mean they avoid a line. According to the State Board of Elections, the first day and last two days are the busiest times to vote during the early voting period. The Saturday and Sunday that fall during early voting typically have the least traffic. In past elections, lines have formed in the morning but have dwindled as the day goes on.
Early voting has taken hold in Maryland since it was introduced in 2010. During this year’s primary, one in four votes were cast early. In the 2014 primary, it was one in five. So far, the high water mark is the 2016 presidential general election, when 31 percent voted early. That was roughly double the percentage in 2012.
Baltimore Sun reporter Christine Zhang contributed to this article.