ODENTON, MD — Dense fog overcame Maryland Monday morning, offering a cloudy start to the election season. Despite the chilly and damp conditions, hundreds of residents headed to Arundel High School to cast their ballot on the first day of early voting.
By 8 a.m., the line stretched a quarter-mile around the voting center. Some voters brought chairs to the poll, cozying up for the two-hour affair.
The droves of voters were the most that Anne Arundel County has ever seen on the first day of early voting, the county board of elections said on Facebook. After six hours, 8,450 voters had cast their ballot. The county's previous day-one record of 8,357 voters came in 2018.
The high turnout was not unique to Anne Arundel County either. More than 161,000 Marylanders voted on the first day of early voting. That breaks the state's 2016 record of 123,623 first-day voters.
“It’s well worth the wait,” Odenton woman Sabrina Booker said, adding that she would vote for former Vice President Joe Biden (D). “This is the first time in my history of voting that I've stood in a line this long. I’m sure on Nov. 3 the lines are probably going to be twice as long.”
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Like most things, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic shook up Maryland’s election plans. Every voter wore a mask, as required, and most maintained physical distancing.
Still, the state offers other options to help voters minimize exposure to large crowds. Marylanders can vote by mail, place their choices in a dropbox, head to the polls early or cast their ballot on Election Day.
Like many voters, Booker was skeptical of mail-in ballots. She worried about tampering and timely delivery during the pandemic.
A ballot dropbox sat about 100 feet from the line, serving as a constant reminder of the voting alternative. With flashing blue lights and cameras surveilling below, a security tower protected the bin. A robotic voice echoed throughout the parking lot, reassuring voters that they can trust the system.
“Hello, the ballot dropbox is open,” the speaker repeated every few minutes. “Thank you for voting. Your vote counts.”
Odenton resident Bob Simpson isn’t comfortable using the new voting system. It’s still “iffy,” he said.
Simpson is open to eventually voting by mail or by dropbox, just not yet. He wants to see whether the absentee methods can handle high volumes before he entrusts his ballot to them.
“I’m sure it’s fine, but I don’t want to try,” Simpson said, noting that he would vote for President Donald Trump’s (R) re-election. “Maybe next time.”
Though Simpson is voting for Trump, he wishes the president would quit his Twitter rants. Simpson believes politics should be civil and respectful, but neither candidate fits the bill, he added.
Trump’s loud personality overtook the stage, and Biden’s wavering left many with questions, Simpson said of the presidential debates. The registered Republican longs for policy-oriented discussions, but he thinks those days may be long gone.
Despite Trump’s “style points,” Simpson appreciates the president’s judicial nominations. Trump has appointed two Supreme Court Justices, and he is poised to add a third before Election Day.
The president recently nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the seat of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Critics say Trump’s nomination came too close to the election, but the Senate officially confirmed Barrett on Monday evening.
Trump voter Steven Brosey sees no problem with appointing Barrett. Brosey cheers her University of Notre Dame pedigree and devout Christianity.
That dedication to religion is exactly what the court needs, Brosey believes. He is frustrated with the government's handling of religious gatherings during the pandemic. Anne Arundel County currently caps religious facilities at half capacity.
“When the government can come in and say they’re going to throw you in jail because you praise God, that’s terrible,” Brosey said, sporting a “Keep America Great” T-shirt.
Brosey handed out Trump-Biden comparison cards from inside his tent stocked with masks and hand sanitizer. Most people weren’t interested in Brosey’s unofficial campaign materials, he said, but he remained dedicated to his cause.
Aside from religious liberties, Brosey is also concerned with education. He says the nation’s schools are underperforming. Adding private schools and alternative teaching methods could bolster the competition and performance of the education system, he hypothesizes.
“When they own it all, they don’t have to be good,” Brosey said, mentioning that he home-schooled all five of his children. “When you put competition in the school system, they have to be good.”
Maryland looks to bolster its education system this year with a referendum on gambling. If approved, Question 2 would authorize sports betting and direct most of the profits toward schools.
Odenton resident and Biden supporter Christi Walker voted for the ballot measure. Since the state already has casinos, adding sports gambling seems like the logical next step to her.
“If we’re going to have gambling and if we’re bringing in money, more of that should be going to the kids,” Walker said.
Schools are a common priority for many voters. As a counselor at Meade Senior High School, Booker is heavily-invested in education. Helping students brings her joy, but she wishes teachers had higher salaries.
Booker hopes Biden can reverse this trend of underpayment. She sees the former vice president as the selfless candidate who can end partisan feuding.
“We’re in the worst state we’ve been in since I’ve been alive,” Booker said. “I don’t want four more years of that.”
Voters agreed that the nation is divided. That may explain the high turnout, some speculate.
“We are so polarized,” Simpson said. “That’s why the lines are so long.”
Patch's guide to voting options, polling locations and candidate listings is available here.
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