BERLIN – Change was the word of the day on Tuesday as American voters overwhelmingly elected Illinois Sen. Barack Obama the 44th president of the United States in what was a record turnout in practically every corner of the nation, but in Worcester, it was business as usual as the county’s electorate followed a trend dating back 20 years or more.
While Obama cruised to victory in Maryland and nationwide on Tuesday, the first African-American president did not carry Worcester County, continuing a trend that has seen the local electorate vote for a Republican candidate for president in every election since 1988. In a local election anomaly, the majority of Worcester County voters are registered Democrat, but they traditionally vote Republican and Tuesday was no different.
Republican candidate John McCain dominated in Worcester on Tuesday, garnering 13,787 votes, or 57 percent, while Obama collected 10,037, or 42 percent. Of the 18 precincts in Worcester County, Obama carried a majority in just four, and there was no apparent geographic, socio-economic or racial pattern to those.
Ironically, according to election return data, Obama won the majority of the votes cast at Pocomoke Middle School, Snow Hill Middle School, Berlin Intermediate School and Stephen Decatur Middle School, but lost to McCain in every other polling place in Worcester County that was not a school.
Of course, Worcester County’s entire electorate amounts to a handful of precincts in the densely populated, heavily Democratic spine of Maryland where voters in Baltimore City, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County overwhelmingly supported Obama, who carried Maryland with 61 percent of the votes cast compared to 37 percent for McCain. In Prince George’s, the disparity was the most pronounced with 296,259 votes going to Obama compared to just 34,112 for McCain.
The Eastern Shore versus Western Shore theme carried over to the highly contested First Congressional District race between Democrat Frank Kratovil and Republican Andy Harris, although the party dominance was reversed. The gerrymandered district includes all nine counties on the Eastern Shore along with parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties on the western shore.
When the polls closed in Maryland on Tuesday, Kratovil led Harris by a slim 916 votes, forcing the election to come down to 28,564 total absentee ballots cast in the district. Kratovil, a Democrat, carried every single one of the nine counties on the Eastern Shore, while Harris was victorious in the precincts in Anne Arundel, Harford and Baltimore counties.
In Worcester, it was Kratovil edging Harris in total votes cast, 12,448 to 10,440. Of the 28,564 absentee ballots cast in the First Congressional District, 12,555 are registered Democrat and 12,266 are registered Republican. If the absentee voters followed the partisan trend of voters who went to the polls on Tuesday, there still might not be a clear-cut winner. The difference will likely come from the 3,743 absentee ballots registered as “other.”
Before the absentee ballot counting process began in earnest yesterday, both Harris and Kratovil appeared confident they would emerge as the winner. They also both expressed confidence the process of counting the absentee ballots will go smoothly and produce a clear winner.
“It’s heartwarming that so many people, Republicans, Democrats and Independents, came out and supported my candidacy for United States Congress,” said Kratovil. “Yesterday [Tuesday], that support carried me to a clear lead in this election at the polling places even as John McCain carried our district by a significant margin. It is my hope that we will see this trend carry over to the absentee ballot totals as well.”
For his part, Harris said he learned first-hand about the importance of the Democratic system from his immigrant parents and expressed equal confidence the process would produce a fair result.
“My parents immigrated to the United States to flee communism with the hope of a better life for themselves and their children,” he said. “Their experience taught me early on to believe in and trust the Democratic process in America, where we have a fair and just system of laws in place to make sure every vote cast is counted fairly.”
In addition to the presidential and congressional elections on the ballot on Tuesday, voters in Worcester and across Maryland were asked to decide two important referendum questions, early voting and slots. Question 1 authorizes the General Assembly to enact legislation allowing qualified voters to vote at polling places inside or outside their election districts up to two weeks before an election. The practice has been adopted in as many as 14 states with varying degrees of success.
On Tuesday, Marylanders overwhelmingly supported early voting by well over than a 2-1 margin with nearly 1.6 voters approving the measure compared to just 623,220 opposed. In Worcester, county voters followed the state trend with 13,267 endorsing early voting compared to just 8,807 opposed.
Also on the ballot Tuesday were a handful of local elections, including three open Worcester County Board of Education seats. However, the incumbents in Districts 2, 3 and 5 ran unopposed and were returned to their seats by the voters. School Board president Garry Mumford (District 2), Sara Thompson (District 3) and Jonathon Cook (District 5) were each unopposed and regained their seats, although it’s interesting to note their were 16, 34, and 14 write-in votes cast in each of the districts, respectively.