October 29, 2010

Early voting draws more than 200K voters

Democratic leaders were so enthusiastic about the 219,000 Marylanders who participated in the six-day early voting program that Friday there was already talk of expanding it.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who was campaigning in Rockville, said that he’d like to look at adding more locations there and in neighboring Prince George’s County — where voters stood in line to cast ballots.

The program, which ended Thursday, attracted 6.3 percent of eligible voters and was far more popular than the early voting period for the primary election which only drew 2.4 percent or 77,000 participants.

Democrats cast 64 percent of total early votes, outstripping their voter 56 percent registration advantage. Republicans cast 27 percent of the vote — slightly better than their 26 percent registration, according to the state board of elections. Absentee returns are following that trend, with 65 percent of the vote-by-mail cast by Dems and 27 cast by GOP so far.

Political watchers warned not to read too much into early voting numbers, as The Sun reported earlier this week. Actual results will not be tallied until election day. But that didn't stop partisans from celebrating.

Susan Turnbull, the chairwoman of the state Democratic party, said she was “very pleased” with the participation levels. “These votes are in the bank,” she said. “We don’t have to concentrate on those people,” she said.

Voting picked up as the days went on, with Thursday by far the most popular day at the polls.

Prince George’s county residents cast the most early votes, with 38,500 participating. Baltimore County took second place with 31,000 voters turning out early.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:00 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Early voting

October 27, 2010

Tea leaves and early voting

It is tempting to see evidence of a Democratic leaning enthusiasm gap when examining trends in the early voting data released by the state's election board, but national political observers say: Resist that urge.

In Maryland the numbers show that Democratic voters have cast 63 percent of the vote so far -- even though the make up 56 percent of the electorate, a trend the Sun reported in a story for Wednesday's paper. Republicans, on the other hand, made up 27 percent of the vote, doing slightly better than their 26 percent registration.

The data would seem to show that Maryland is already bucking the predicted tend of highly energized GOP voters this year. After all, if the Rs were truly excited about Maryland's race, wouldn't the numbers show them flocking to the polls ahead of the allegedly disgruntled Democrats?

Jennifer Duffy, of The Cook Political Report, warned that the data is best used as a progress report for the competing D and R early voting programs. Indeed, the Democrats seem to be reaching more people on a nightly basis, though the GOP in Maryland claim they are exceeding goals.

George Mason University's Michael McDonald, who this week got into a lively debate with The New York Times' Nate Silver on this very topic, says early voting seems to be tracking pollsters' predicted outcomes in a number of states. But, he argues that the most insightful way of looking at the figures is to compare them with the turnout breakdowns by party from previous elections. Such a comparison is impossible here where early voting is brand new.

Todd Eberly, of St. Mary's College of Maryland, takes a stab at Mason's suggested analysis anyway and notes that in the September primary GOP voters stayed away from early voting places, but percentage-wise turned out more than Dems when the election was over.

Bottom line: Fun as this is, we're just not going to know much until Nov. 3.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Early voting

October 26, 2010

General election Early voting exceeds primary total

Friday was the first day of a weeklong early voting period -- and people seem much more enthusiastic than they did during the primaries.

Both Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. stormed the state Saturday to get out the early vote.

The State Board of Elections reported that 32,000 people voted Friday. On Day One of primary early voting, merely 14,000 came out. In total, 77,000 people voted early in either the Democratic or Republican primary. As of Tuesday morning, more than 95,200 statewide had cast early votes for the general election, according to State Board of Elections figures.

Friday's numbers showed that twice as many Democrats as Republicans voted. That tracks from the primary early voting turnout. Prince George's County, a Democratic stronghold, has notched the highest turnout, with more than 15,800 casting ballots, the elections board reported.

The early voting centers are open to registered voters from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Thursday. Check here for details

Tallies from each day of early voting won't be made public until after the polls close on Election Day, Nov. 2.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:50 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Early voting

September 28, 2010

Conservation voters group mails absentee ballots

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters is mailing 130,000 absentee ballot applications to registered voters -- an effort that could prove beneficial to Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and other candidates endorsed by the environmental group. The applications are expected to begin showing up in mailboxes today.

This marks the largest voter outreach effort by the Maryland group. In 2006, the conservation league sent out applications and postcards to 70,000 voters. (That was the first election after absentee ballot rules were loosened. There's no longer a need to provide a reason for voting by mail.)

The voter outreach is funded through the league's nonprofit educational arm, so the applications come with no partisan political message, said Cindy Schwartz, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

Neither red nor blue voters are targeted -- only green ones.

Continue reading "Conservation voters group mails absentee ballots" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:05 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Early voting, Elections

September 16, 2010

Primary turnout hits historic low

For all the talk of an energized electorate, and even with the new opportunity to vote early, turnout in Tuesday’s primaries was the lowest in for a gubernatorial election year in Maryland going back at least to 1982, the earliest year for which records were available.

Of Maryland’s 3,167,846 eligible voters, 761,413 cast ballots in the primaries, for a turnout of 24.04 percent, according to unofficial counts released Thursday by the State Board of Elections. The numbers do not yet include provisional or absentee ballots, but judging from previous elections, these are unlikely to be enough to push the total over the state’s previous low of 28.64 percent in in 1998.

This year, 2.44 percent of the electorate took advantage of early voting, offered for six days at central locations in each county; 21.6 percent voted on Tuesday, the traditional primary day, when local polling places were open.

In spite of a competitive Democratic primary for state's attorney, Baltimore saw a lower-than-average turnout of 21.49 percent. Baltimore County, venue for a comeptitive race for county executive, had a turnout of 29.45 percent.

Two of Maryland's least populous counties, meanwhile, distinguished themselves in electoral enthusiasm: Garrett County led the state with 39.59 percent turnout, including 35.09 percent on Tuesday. Talbot county led in early voting participation with 6.78 percent.

Continue reading "Primary turnout hits historic low" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:27 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Early voting, Primaries 2010

September 10, 2010

What does early voting cost us?

The State Board of Elections released an estimate this afternoon of how much it costs to provide early voting for the primary and general elections. The tally: About $3.4 million.

The bulk of the expense -- 12 days worth of election judges at 46 early voting centers and publicity and outreach materials -- is to be picked up by Baltimore City and the counties, according to Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator of the elections board.

The state also is spending about half a million dollars, mostly on election software and more publicity.

As The Sun reported this morning, relatively few people took advantage of the state's first-ever early voting period. About 77,000 came out to cast balllots -- roughly 2.5 percent of eligible voters and 8 percent of the voters expected to participate in the primary.

Continue reading "What does early voting cost us?" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 5:45 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Early voting

Primary early voting closes, few use it

Maryland's first experience with early voting is now over, and it yielded a fairly small turnout.-- just about 77,000 voters out of a possible 3.2 million.

The many voters who didn't weigh in early on the primary election can do so on Tuesday. The State Elections Board published final figures this morning, and they show that yesterday, the final day of the weeklong early voting period, was by far the busiest with more than 18,000 casting ballots.

If the primary election draws its usual 30 percent voter turnout, early voting will account for about 8 percent of the ballots cast. Early voting researchers, including Paul Gronke at Reed College, say that seems low. States with established early voting systems typically see no less than 20 percent of ballots cast that way -- though primary election data is fairly unstudied.

Maryland election officials say the turnout was about what they expected. As we reported this morning in The Sun, early voting coincided with Labor Day weekend, the start of school and Rosh Hashana. High-profile early voters, including Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., publicized the system's debut.

One plus of the small turnout, says state elections administrator Linda Lamone, is that it gave polling judges a chance to hone their skills before what they expect to be the far busier early voting period that will precede the Nov. 2 general election.

More early voting stats after the jump.

Continue reading "Primary early voting closes, few use it" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:07 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Early voting

September 9, 2010

Ehrlich holds nose and votes early

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. cast a ballot for himself this morning in the GOP primary, participating in an early voting program similar to the one that he vetoed when in office five years ago.

Ehrlich has repeatedly denounced early voting as a “solution in search of a problem,” saying Marylanders were never “clamoring” for ability to vote before the traditional primary day. Also, he pointed out that the additional costs associated polling places and election judges is “an expensive process during a difficult time.”

That has put Ehrlich’s team in the awkward position of advocating to supporters that they cast ballots before election day, while also acknowledging that Ehrlich opposes the program. Gov. Martin O’Malley, the Democratic incumbent and Brian Murphy, Ehrlich’s GOP challenger, have both made an issue of the inconsistency.

Nevertheless Ehrlich’s black SUV transported him, his wife Kendel and their son Drew to the Annapolis Senior Activity Center around 10 a.m. where the voting age members of the family cast ballots. Asked why he chose to participate in the program – voters can still cast ballots on primary election day – he chuckled and turned to longtime staffer Greg Massoni.

“Why is that Greg?” he asked. Massoni didn't say anything and Ehrlich chuckled. “I don’t know," he continued. "I guess because it is the law. It is what we have so we're doing it. There is no great thought that went into that.”

Ehrlich said that if he becomes governor he would “keep an open mind” about changes to the program. Any alteration to early voting would require changing the Maryland’s constitution via a state-wide ballot question.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:25 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Early voting

September 8, 2010

Few vote early so far

Just over 33,000 Marylanders had taken advantage of the state's new early voting rules in the first three days of early voting, according to data on the Maryland Board of Elections website.

That means roughly one percent of the state’s 3.1 million registered voters had gone to the polls from Friday to Monday. Early polling places will be open two more days. Primary elections don’t usually draw large numbers of voters – four years ago 29 percent of registered Maryland voters participated. (See photo below of an early voting center at Northpoint Library courtesy of Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz.)

Statewide, the two busiest counties so far are Prince George’s with 5,800 voting and Baltimore County where 5,780 voted. Overall larger percentages of eligible Democrats are voting early than Republicans – but not by much -- 1.21 percent of Dems have voted verses one percent of GOP voters. These figures do not inNorthpoint Library in Baltimore Countyclude absentee ballots.

GOP leaning Kent and Garrett counties stood out as the two areas with the largest percentage of registered voters taking advantage of the new rules. That’s a bit surprising given Republicans in the General Assembly vehemently opposed the early voting program when it was first suggested in 2005.

In Baltimore city's waterfront 46th district, Senate challenger Bill Ferguson has not yet marshaled his promised troops to take on Sen. George Della. The young candidate touted a sophisticated early voting plan to beat the incumbent, however as of Monday a mere 428 had cast ballots.

(UPDATE: Ferguson says via text message that turnout is "slightly lower than expected" but says his supporters are going to the polls by a four to one margin. There is no real way of verifying this that I can think of.)

Instead, most of the early voting in Baltimore is occurring in Northeast’s 43rd District, where 963 (or 1.7 percent) have voted in the contest between incumbent Sen. Joan Carter Conway and challenger Hector Torres.

Torres, a former Baltimore City Fire Department spokesman, hasn’t raised much money but is trying to ride the year’s anti- politician theme by accusing Conway of being bought by Annapolis special interests. The district had high turnout four years ago; with 34.43 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in that district. That percentage beat the state average and made the 43rd the second most vote happy district in the city.

Oddly, Northwest Baltimore’s 41st legislative district, where there are no contested races for the General Assembly, so far has the second highest voter turnout with 923 taking part. Del. Sandy Rosenberg hypothesized that the top of the ticket State's Attorney match-up between incumbent Patricia Jessamy and challenger Gregg Bernstein could be driving the higher turnout there. Also, he noted, two of the city’s five early voting centers are located in the district.

Another reason could be that residents there just really like to vote – in 2006 the district had the highest participation figures in the city.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:05 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Early voting

September 2, 2010

Early primary voting is test run for general election

With the start Friday of early voting, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Bykowicz reports, for the first time in state history all Maryland voters will be able to cast their ballots ahead of the Sept. 14 primary elections.

Candidates across the state are viewing this round of early voting as something of a dry run for the weeklong voting period that will precede the general election in November. Only registered Democrats and Republicans can participate in the primaries.

The new system has cast office-seekers in the role of de facto educators, explaining the process to voters. Many also include early voting information in their campaign literature and have begun mentioning it in automated phone calls to voters. Many, including the governor and his chief competitor, hope to lead by example by casting their own votes early.

“It's kind of crept up on us,” Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley said at an early voting rally this week in Annapolis with legislative leaders and the legislative black caucus. “It is still new to people as I encounter them on the street. Let's hope for a big turnout.”

The incumbent faces only token opposition in the Democratic gubernatorial primary; his two challengers have little name recognition or money. But aides have said early voting in the primary will provide a valuable preview of how the process will unfold in November.

In the Republican gubernatorial primary, former Gov. Robert L.Ehrlich Jr. must face down Montgomery County businessman Brian Murphy, who is far less widely known but drew national attention when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin announced her support for him this summer.

“It’s hard to figure out what early voting means in the Republican primary, given that this is the first time,” Murphy said this week. “We’re aware of it, but it’s a nonfactor.”

Continue reading "Early primary voting is test run for general election" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:26 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Early voting, Elections

September 1, 2010

Murphy, O'Malley hit Ehrlich on early voting

* Updated below *

Maryland's gubernatorial candidates want you to vote early. But two of them, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and Republican underdog challenger Brian Murphy also want to remind you that Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Republican former governor and current contender, once vetoed early voting.

"Ehrlich's change of heart on early voting [is] nothing more than an opportunistic about-face by a career politician," Murphy said in a release late Tuesday, some of his strongest criticism to date of his primary challenger.

O'Malley's campaign spokesman said in a message to supporters Tuesday that early voting was a "no-brainer for public officials on both sides of the aisle, but if Bob Ehrlich had had his way early voting would never have been possible."

Anticipating such criticism, Ehrlich composed a YouTube message in which he attempts to reconcile his opposition to early voting with his desire for you to vote early for him.

Continue reading "Murphy, O'Malley hit Ehrlich on early voting" »

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:07 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Early voting
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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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