Here in the region where it’s “All Politics” every year, it takes something enormous to knock the last days of the election campaign down the priority list.
The forecast for days of widespread weather misery, thanks to Hurricane Sandy, therefore is likely at least partly responsible for the huge turnout at early voting polling venues in Maryland and Washington.
Polling places that opened Oct. 27 were inundated, overwhelmed by voters who were trying to get a jump on voting. Lines stretched for blocks. People reported standing in line for hours at polling places that initially had far too few voting machines.
In fairness, this was the first time for Maryland to have early voting in a presidential election. A constitutional amendment passed by the Legislature in 2007 and ratified by voters in the 2008 general election made Maryland one of 32 states that allow early voting.
At one of Maryland’s polling sites on the second day of early voting this weekend, it took me an hour and ten minutes to get through the line that snaked about halfway around a full block from the building.
But, far from being a tedious wait, it was an energizing exercise in civics. My neighbors in line were all strangers, but we became a little community of engaged voters during our hour together.
Since the line stretched far from the boundary near the polling place where politicking is prohibited, volunteers worked the crowd. They handed out literature – while not being pushy with those who didn’t want it — and happily paused to talk if asked about the various candidates and ballot issues they represented.
Maryland has some well-advertised ballot issues this year, including one redefining the definition of marriage to allow same-sex marriages and one approving a state version of the DREAM Act. But there are also a few that have been little discussed and that aren’t well explained in the literature mailed by the county.
So, we learned from the volunteers and from neighbors in line.
A passing volunteer explained the history of a measure to give police chiefs some power that currently is part of the police union’s negotiating options. While obviously interested in one outcome, she wasn’t strident and seemed to explain the opposing viewpoint with as little bias as her own.
One woman offered to tell us about a judge she knows: “You know how nobody ever knows anything about the judges on the ballot?” she started. “Well, for a change I know one of them. I can tell you about her.”
Inside the building, the crowds were handled efficiently and cheerfully. I listened as one poll worker helped a man with limited English ability in the booth next to mine get through the ballot. He clearly knew the issues and how he wanted to vote, but struggled a little with the computer logistics. The poll worker helped him with no indication of bias, no suggestion of condescending to him.
I dropped my ballot card in the bin, picked up my “I voted” sticker and headed home, feeling pleased that I’d been able to cross “vote” off my pre-storm to-do list. But more, I was encouraged that the democratic process was working.