Early Voting A Hit In County

BERLIN – If early turnout numbers are any indication, voters in Worcester County and across Maryland have embraced the concept of early voting, approved by state referendum two years ago, as significant numbers have taken advantage of the first-year opportunity.

For the first time in history, Maryland voters this year have been afforded the opportunity to vote early in advance of Tuesday’s General Election at designated polling sites across the state. In Worcester, registered voters were invited this year to cast their ballots early at the county’s only approved early voting location at the Gull Creek Community Center in Berlin and a significant number had turned out already by the close of the polls on Wednesday with a full day still to go yesterday.

When the polls closed on Wednesday night, 2,267 Worcester County voters had cast their ballots early, for an average of roughly 500 per day. If the same pattern played out yesterday, the final total could approach the 2,800 mark, with is fairly significant, according to Worcester County Board of Elections Supervisor Patti Jackson.

“Considering it is the first year for early voting, we really didn’t know what to expect, but we’re very pleased with how it’s going thus far,” she said yesterday. “It’s been a very good turnout.”

The early return data does not suggest Democrats are more likely to vote early then Republicans or vice versa as the figures going into yesterday were split nearly right down the middle. When the polls at Gull Creek closed on Wednesday, 1,009 Democrats and 1,027 Republican had voted early, along with 231 others.

According to the State Board of Elections, the turnout thus far represents about 6 percent of the eligible voters in Worcester County. When compared to other jurisdictions in the region, Worcester is about middle of the road. A regional look for counties includes Wicomico, 6 percent; Talbot, 11 percent; Somerset, 6 percent; Queen Anne’s, 7 percent; Kent, 10 percent; Dorchester, 6 percent; Cecil, 4 percent; and Caroline, 7 percent.

In 2008, Maryland’s electorate approved early voting on a statewide referendum question by a significant margin. It’s important to note the early voting referendum question was buried on the ballot with the more glamorous slots referendum question. Across Maryland, roughly 1.8 million voters approved early voting with about 670,000 opposed. In Worcester, a little over 15,000 approved early voting in the referendum, while about 9,800 voted against it.

The Gull Creek Community Center was the only early voting site in Worcester. According to state law, jurisdictions with less than 150,000 registered voters are allowed only one early voting polling place. The number of sites goes up commiserate with the number of registered voters in a particular county.

The polls closed at 8 p.m. last night and the individual machines will be locked securely in the county’s election offices until Tuesday. The votes recorded on the machine can be counted starting on Tuesday afternoon to allow time for the totals to be included in the General Election counts on Tuesday night when the polls close.

Meanwhile, County Election officials this week scrambled to get corrected sample ballots sent out to voters across Worcester after erroneous specimen ballots were mailed out earlier this week. The flawed election ballots received by voters had incorrect listings for Worcester County Commissioner and Board of Education candidates in Districts 1-4 along with District 6 and District 7.

Immediately after the sample ballot situation was discovered, county election officials quickly corrected the errors and sent correct sample ballots out to voters in the districts affected by the gaff. The correct sample ballots were expected to hit mailboxes yesterday or today, according to Jackson.

“We regret this printing error occurred and guarantee voters that the ballots on which voters will vote are not affected by this mistake,” she said. “We are working diligently with the printer to ensure that voters are notified of the error and provided the correct information.”

Jackson said the erroneous ballots received by some voters in the county this week were the result of an error on the printer’s end.

“We did proof them on our end, but the errors occurred somewhere between our proofing and sending them and the actual finished product that went out to the voters,” she said. “The printer has accepted responsibility for the error and has agreed to pay for correcting it. It’s important to understand no taxpayer money was spent on correcting the error.”

Voters in Commissioner and Board of Education Districts 1, 4 and 7 were expected to receive corrected sample ballots late this week, as early as yesterday, perhaps. However, voters in commissioner and Board of Education Districts 2, 3, and 6 were expected to receive a letter listing the candidate to candidates that will be on Tuesday’s ballot. Because those aforementioned districts have only one candidate, the local elections board, after consulting with the state, determined a letter would be sufficient to inform voters in those districts which candidates would appear on their ballots.