Hurricane or no hurricane, more than 430,000 Marylanders voted early this year, nearly twice as many as in the last general election in 2010.
During the five days of early voting, which was canceled Monday and Tuesday due to Hurricane Sandy but then extended to Friday, 11.65 percent of Maryland’s 3.7 million eligible voters cast ballots, sometimes braving lines that were hours long. In 2010, turnout was 6.3 percent.
Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator for the state Board of Elections, said the increase could be attributed to the fact that turnout for presidential elections is always higher than for interim elections. But early voting likely will increase in future years as people became more familiar with the process, he said.
Prince George’s County, which had five early-voting locations, had the highest turnout with 77,939 voters, or 12.65 percent. Montgomery also had five locations and saw a turnout of 69,929 voters, or 12.3 percent.
Baltimore County and Baltimore city followed, with 56,243 and 46,515 voters, respectively, or 10.9 percent in the county and 11.59 percent in the city. Each of those jurisdictions had five polling locations as well.
Some voters in Baltimore County faced lines as long as three hours, said Katie Brown, director of its Board of Elections. Other than that, “everything seemed to run very [smoothly],” she said.
In Montgomery County, lines at the Germantown Recreation Center reached as long as four hours on Oct. 27, according to Marjorie Roher, spokeswoman for the county’s elections board.
“Once we saw the tremendous turnout on Saturday, we did deploy additional machines and judges,” Roher said. Afterward, lines still were long but moved much faster, she said.
In Prince George’s, lines were as long as four hours in Bowie and Oxon Hill, according to Alisha Alexander, administrator of the county board of elections.
The long lines may not be around for the next election, if Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) of College Park has anything to say about it.
Rosapepe announced Thursday that he plans to prefile legislation for the 2013 General Assembly session that will expand early voting across the state.
“Democracy delayed is democracy denied,” Rosapepe said in a statement. “I've heard repeated complaints from my constituents about the long lines and waiting times of over two hours to vote at the small number of early-voting locations available across the state.”
But the impact of early voting on overall turnout isn’t clear yet, said Todd Eberly, professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St. Mary’s City. Comparing Tuesday’s returns with those of 2008 will help determine whether early voting simply cannibalizes the Election Day turnout, he said.
“Are we spending money for convenience but not actually increasing turnout?” Eberly said. “That’s an important question for people to ask about.”