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Neighborhoodsby Mark Reutter3:59 pmOct 27, 20120

Early voter turnout unexpectedly high in Baltimore

Enthusiasm over Obama and the “Sandy effect” spur voters at northwest polling site.

Above: Hundreds of city residents showed up on the first day of early voting at the Public Safety Training Center. At left are Danielle McKoy and her mother Dionne Quick.

Baltimore residents flocked to the polls on the first day of early voting in Maryland, causing lines that surprised election officials.

Frankie L. Powell, the city election board’s Republican Party member, described himself as “flabbergasted” by the number of voters who jammed into the Public Safety Training Center at Northern Parkway and Park Heights Ave. shortly after the polls opened at 10 this morning.

It was a far cry, he said, from early voting in previous elections, including the record-low turnout at last year’s elections for mayor and City Council.

“There are usually only 5 to 6 voters at a time [during early voting],” he said, throwing out his arms to indicate the queue of voters that stretched back the full width of the main corridor and partly doubled back.

Even with 20 voting stations in operation, the waiting time was about 45 minutes, discouraging scores of residents who, taking one look at the crowd, turned on their heels and said they would come back another day.

But to Janice Stuckey, today’s orderly and cheerful crowd was “a wonderful sight.”

As she patiently waited to reach the former school gym, where voting took place, she said, “My heart’s been pounding. I’m just amazed and thankful and proud of all the people coming out to vote.”

Flanking the corridor were senior citizens with canes and sometimes walkers, given seats to wait for family or friends to queue up to the front of the line, then enter the gym to register and vote.

Among the younger voters present was Danielle McKoy, 22, who said she was eager to cast her ballot “to support the young African Americans in my community.”

By 1 p.m., nearly 2,000 residents had cast their vote at the city’s five early voting stations, according to an election board official.

Sandy and Big Bird

Tricia Brissett attributed today’s turnout to voters “trying to get ahead of Sandy” (referring to Hurricane Sandy that is expected to strike Maryland on Monday) and enthusiasm for voting for incumbent president Barrack Obama.

At least today, two of the most contentious questions on the ballot – legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland and allowing undocumented immigrants to be eligible for in-state college tuition – sparked little discussion on the waiting line.

Instead, the presidential race was at the forefront, with many voters wearing Obama buttons and occasional sightings of “Save Big Bird.”

Tricia Brissett, Lillian Campbell and Gwen Patillo (l-r) are all smiles as they wait in line to vote at the Public Training Center today. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Tricia Brissett, Lillian Campbell and Gwen Patillo are all smiles as they wait in line to vote at the Public Training Center today. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

In addition to the presidential race, voters can choose whether U.S. Senator Ben Cardin retains his seat, as well as their U.S. Representative and Circuit Court and other state judges.

Among the city amendments that have stirred the most interest is Question A, authorizing the  borrowing of up to $34 million for school construction, and Question M, calling for the auditing of city agencies every four years.

Early Voter Hours

In addition to the Public Safety Training Center, there are four other early voting sites in Batlimore – Edmondson-Westside High School at 501 Athol Ave.; League for People with Disabilities at 1111 E. Coldspring Lane; St. Brigid’s Parish Center at 900 S. East Ave., and the Maritime Industries Academy School at 5001 Sinclair Lane.

The sites will be open until 8 p.m. tonight, and between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday (Nov. 1).

Tomorrow (Sunday), the polling stations will be open from 12 noon to 6 p.m.

Depending on the severity of Sandy, Gov. Martin O’Malley may order changes to the early voting schedule. The general election takes place November 6.

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