If the first day of early voting in Maryland on Thursday is any indication, thousands of voters chose to not come to the polls — at least not yet.
According to unofficial totals from the state Board of Elections, nearly 18,400 voters came out to the polls. In comparison to the first day of early voting in the 2018 gubernatorial primary election, approximately 31,110 showed up.
Prince George’s County recorded the state’s highest number of early voters Thursday at nearly 3,100. About 5,600 in the county cast ballots on the first day in 2018.
“I have spoken to many people at the different poll sites, [and] there are so few people coming out,” Linda Thornton Thomas, president of the Prince George’s County NAACP branch, said Friday. “We also found out that some didn’t know the primary election for early voting started. This is disappointing.”
Gov. Larry Hogan, whose second and final term ends in January, concurred.
“A lot of people aren’t even aware that the election is going on, or that early voting started,” Hogan said to reporters after casting his primary election ballot in Annapolis for the last time as governor. “I’ve been casting my ballot in every primary since I was 18 years old. I’m going to keep voting long after I’m governor. I would encourage everybody to do the same.”
State and local election officials remain optimistic that the voter turnout tally will increase once thousands of ballots mailed or placed inside drop boxes are counted.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in June 2020, nearly 1.4 million of the state’s more than 4 million eligible voters voted exclusively by mail, the first time the state had ever allowed such.
As of Thursday, the state has received about 77,160 ballots for this year’s election.
To encourage and remind Prince George’s residents about early voting, residents received text messages before and the day of early voting with information such as the deadline to submit applications to vote by mail (July 12), when early voting ends (July 14) and the 13 voting centers that residents can choose from to cast their ballots.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Residents can also take ballots to one of 38 drop boxes in the county.
“If your children are willing to go to school and do the work, if you are going to work every day and you want your family to be safe, then the way to make sure that continues is if you get out and vote,” Thornton Thomas said. “We’re not telling you who to vote for, but we’re saying you need to vote so that you don’t feel you didn’t have a voice in [democracy].”
Prince George’s Council
At least four new people will join the Prince George’s County Council in December due to term-limited members in Districts 2, 3, 4 and 6.
Rhonda Billingslea of Bowie declined to say which candidate she will vote for to replace Todd Turner as the District 4 representative.
Carol Boyer, also of Bowie but resides in District 6, said Friday she hasn’t voted yet, but hopes the new person will be better than former Council member Derrick Leon Davis. The council unanimously voted in May to appoint former District Heights Mayor Johnathan Medlock to serve the remainder of Davis’ term after he resigned in April.
“I hope the new person will look out for the residents in our district,” Boyer said.
Billingslea and Boyer said who they aren’t voting for: At-large council members Calvin Hawkins II and Mel Franklin.
One reason is the two council members’ votes to support a text amendment in 2019 to allow the owners of Freeway Airport in Bowie to construct roughly 500 townhouses and single-family homes. The land zoned residential agricultural “would allow a density nine times greater than what’s currently permitted.”
Boyer and Billingslea are part of Concerned Citizens of Prince George’s County District 4 and the Surrounding Areas, which filed a petition in court to challenge the council’s decision.
The case was moved to Anne Arundel Court to eliminate a conflict of interest in the case. (Note: Bowie Mayor Tim Adams, elected mayor several days after the council’s decision in November 2019 who disagreed with council’s decision, is married to Shelia Tillerson Adams, an administrative judge in the Prince George’s Circuit Court)
An Anne Arundel County judge ruled in favor of the council last year.
The citizens’ group appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which released a written decision on June 29 to reverse that court’s ruling.
“This case presents a worrisome dynamic between public and private interests,” according to the special appeals ruling. “The airport owners have essentially bullied the Council by claiming that … they will intensify the usage, making it more dangerous unless the Council accords them the density of their choice.”
Hawkins and Franklin also voted in November to revamp a redistricting plan and rejected a proposal from a three-member redistricting commission that council created. The state court of appeals ruled in March against the council and for the county to use the commission’s plan.
“I didn’t vote for them in the last election,” Billingslea said of Hawkins and Franklin. “Look at how they voted on various issues, especially for them to be challenged in court. Hopefully, people will really look at the candidates.”