Early voting exceeds 140,000, setting primary record

More than 140,000 Marylanders went to the polls to cast early ballots in Tuesday's election, setting a record for a state primary, according to figures released Friday.

The eight-day early-voting period ended Thursday night with more than 4 percent of the electorate taking advantage of the option.

The 141,590 who voted early this year roughly doubled the number who went to the polls before Election Day in the 2010 and 2012 primaries. However, it is difficult to make meaningful comparisons because there were no high-profile, competitive statewide races in either of those previous primaries. This year, there are hard-fought contests for governor in both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as a competitive Democratic race for attorney general.

A breakdown of the early voting numbers shows distinct differences between the parties and among the state's 24 jurisdictions.

The Democratic participation rate exceeded that of Republicans by roughly a 10-7 margin. Just over 5 percent of Democrats voted early, compared with a little over 3.5 percent for the GOP.

County early voting percentages ranged from 1.55 percent in Allegany and Washington counties to 10 percent in Talbot. The early voting was especially strong among Talbot Republicans, who led the state with a 12.5 percent early voting rate. That, along with high early turnout in other Eastern Shore counties, can be seen as a good indicator for Harford County Executive David R. Craig, who chose Del, Jeannie Haddaway of Talbot as his running mate. Harford Republicans, however, turned out early at an only slightly higher rate than the statewide total for Republicans.

Early voting was particularly weak in Montgomery County, the state's most populous jurisdiction, where only 3 percent of voters went to the polls. That reflected a glaring disparity between Montgomery Democrats, 4.5 percent of whom voted early, and Republicans at 1.5 percent. Similarly wide gulfs in participation rates were found in populous Prince George's and Baltimore counties as well.

Voters in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties voted early at levels above the statewide average. Anne Arundel Republicans, with a highly competitive county executive primary between incumbent Laura Neuman and Del. Steve Schuh, bucked the trend own low early GOP voting with almost 5 percent of the ballots aleady cast.

Steve Raabe, chief executive of the Annapolis-based OpinionWorks polling company, said the disparities between the parties on early voting could reflect a more traditional mindset among Republicans toward voting on Election Day. He said Republican voters are also more likely to be retired and less likely to face work conflicts on Election Day.

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