OCEAN CITY — Polling places were slow to fill on Tuesday morning as local voters colored in their paper ballots with general ease in Worcester County.
After record numbers of Marylanders turned out for early voting in the state, the long lines of voters seen at polling places across the country were almost non-existent around the area for most of the day.
“It’s been very, very slow this morning,” said a ballot official at a Berlin polling place who wished not to be named. “Hopefully, it picks up as the day goes on.
Three times the number of early voters cast votes in Maryland this cycle compared to 2012 when Barack Obama ran unopposed for re-election
and Mitt Romney had all but sewn up the Republican nomination for President.
Nearly 8 percent of Maryland voters, or almost 260,000 cast early votes in the eight days leading up to Tuesday’s primary, with slightly more Democrats than Republicans heading to the polls prior to today, according to the State Board of Elections.
Despite the fact that a new president will be elected in November and there has been an incredible circus-like hullabaloo surrounding the contenders on both the Democratic and Republican side, local voters seemed to be much more concerned with the results of the elections that trended much more local.
“I think you have to definitely look closely at the race for Congress and for our local school board,” said Berlin resident Patricia Dufendach. “That’s where our tax dollars end up going and we need to keep the schools in good standing. The national politics is important, but I am much more concerned with our local community and our state.”
Dufendach’s sentiments took a much more pragmatic tone compared with voters who have been less than thrilled with both the options on the ballot and the rhetoric that has dominated this presidential campaign on both sides of the proverbial aisle.
Patricia’s husband, Paul Dufendach went to the polls, but didn’t get to cast a vote because he is a registered Independent.
“I call it illegal elections,” he said. “The election is held in our local schools and is being run with government equipment so it should be open to all voters, not just people who are signed up as a Democrat or a Republican.”
Independent voters have not been able to participate in primary votes for many years, but, according to the Board of Elections, the number of Independent voters in the state has increased by almost 57 percent in the last decade totaling approximately 672,000, leaving more people on the voting sidelines in the primary than perhaps ever before.
While Republican frontrunner Donald Trump and Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton are expected to cruise to victory in Maryland on Tuesday, there are many close races throughout the state including the battle to win the right to contest for the retiring US Senator Barbara Mikulski’s seat.
Democrats Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Donna Edwards have been neck and neck in a contentious battle for the Democratic nod for the seat Mikulski has held for the past 30 years as a large pool of Republican and Independent candidates are also vying for a seat that is not expected to switch party affiliation in the general election.
Patricia Dufendach believes whomever wins Mikulski’s seat needs to be just as mindful of the needs of the Eastern Shore as Senator Barb historically was.
“With Barbara Mikulski’s help, we got a lot of attention on issues that faced the Eastern Shore,” she said. I’m hopeful that anyone who is in that seat, we have to remind them as citizens what we need and what their responsibilities are. If we just sit back and complain, it does no good. We have to be activist citizens.”
Yet, while the Maryland primary is a closed election, meaning you must be registered either Democrat or Republican, voters in school board district 3 (Berlin and West Ocean City) could vote for one of three candidates vying for Worcester County Board of Education.
Those candidates include longtime boardmember Sara Thompson and challengers Shirley Bunting Moran and Francis Gebhart.
Stumping for Moran early Tuesday morning under a pop-up tent were retired teachers Carol Hawkins and Hazel Freeman. Hawkins believes casting a vote for your choice for school board is vitally important.
“The Board of Education vote has to do with your kids because it’s very personal,” said Hawkins. “I think the average person doesn’t feel like they can make much of a difference in Washington because it’s such a mess. With the local elections, at least you know someone will be there to listen to your concerns.”
The early-voting period was also the debut of a paper-based system in which voters would fill out printed ballots with a pen and feed them through scanners instead of using electronic machines without a paper trail. State elections officials reversed plans to use touch-screen machines for early voting over concerns that the long list of candidates would make it too difficult for voters to navigate through.
Despite the “old-school” paper ballots, as one voter described them, there were no issues reported.
Hawkins and Freeman said they plan to sit in front of Berlin Intermediate School until the polls close at 8pm, and while they expected the numbers of voters coming to the Berlin polling location to increase throughout the day, Hawkins hinted that she did come prepared for some downtime.
“I brought one of my favorite books to read,” she said, as she reached into her totebag. “It’s by [former Presidential candidate and physician] Ben Carson.”
Polls in Maryland are open until 8 p.m. Tuesday.