Large numbers of people turned out for the first day of early voting at The League for People with Disabilities on Cold Spring Lane. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun video)
Marylanders shattered the state's early-voting record Monday after more than 500,000 people cast ballots in five days.
And there are still three days left in this year's early-voting period.
Voters are making a choice in the hotly contested presidential race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. Candidates for the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and local offices are also on the ballot. If trends continue, 800,000 Maryland voters will cast ballots ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
Early-voting centers are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Thursday.
In 2012, when the state record of roughly 430,000 early ballots was set, early voting spanned five days. This year, early voting will last eight days and there are 20 more polling places than four years ago.
Early-voting centers are also staying open two hours longer this year, said Nikki Baines Charlson, deputy administrator at the Maryland State Board of Elections. She said no significant problems have been reported.
Del. Samuel I. "Sandy"Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat, said opening early-voting centers for more days and longer hours should alleviate lines on Election Day and the pressure on voters to make it to their polling places on a single Tuesday.
"This is essential," Rosenberg said. "Early voting is a part of a trend of expanding the franchise, enabling more people to vote, women, African-Americans.
"The historical tide in this country has been to increase access to voting."
Rosenberg helped push for more early voting after the 2012 general election, the first time it was offered during a presidential contest.
Political observers predicted the high early turnout this year. They say that as the electorate becomes more familiar with early voting, turnout should rise. The contentious matchup between Clinton and Trump also is contributing to the surge, as is the rare open U.S. Senate seat and Baltimore's mayoral election.
But Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary's College, said early voting is unlikely to compel more people to participate.
Research shows it pulls from the number who will go to the polls on Election Day, he said. More than 2 million people voted in Maryland on Election Day four years ago, when President Barack Obama was elected to a second term.
Eberly said early voting has been shown to reduce turnout in some places, in part because it reduces a sense of urgency some feel when they have just one day to vote.
Adding same-day registration on Election Day could boost turnout, he said. Allowing people to sign up to vote and immediately cast a ballot gives campaigns a chance to mobilize marginal voters, but some are concerned the practice could lead to voter fraud.
In Maryland, same-day registration is offered during early voting but not on Election Day. Voters who want to sign up during early voting must provide a document to prove residence, such as a driver's license or paycheck.
About 125,000 people came out last week on the first and second days of early voting — despite long lines that kept some waiting more than an hour. The number slipped to about 80,000 on Saturday and to about 74,000 on Sunday, the fourth day of early voting. A total of 102,617 people voted Monday, when lines were again present at some polling places.
Matthew Crenson, a political science professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins University, said he can think of few drawbacks to extending early voting, except one: the "October surprise," the release of last-minute information that could sway the outcome of an election.
Early voting started in Maryland, for instance, before FBI Director James Comey announced last week in a letter to members of Congress that the bureau is looking into a new batch of emails that could be related to Clinton's use of a private server.
Crenson said some may feel disappointed after voting early that the release of additional information cannot factor into their decision.
Voters in Maryland will send either Democrat Chris Van Hollen, Republican Kathy Szeliga or Green Party nominee Margaret Flowers to the Senate. The winner will succeed Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who is retiring after 30 years.
Eight House members also will be selected. And a host of local positions are on the ballot, too.
In Baltimore, voters in the mayoral contest will choose between Democrat Catherine E. Pugh, Republican Alan Walden and Green Party candidate Joshua Harris. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon, a Democrat, is among those waging a write-in campaign. Baltimore voters will also select a comptroller and 15 members of the City Council.
In Howard County, local school board members are on the ballot.