Ballot questions could mean long lines at polls -- Gazette.Net


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With a presidential election and seven statewide referendum questions on Maryland’s November ballot, officials are expecting voters to spend more time in the polling booth.

As a result, election officials want to make sure the public studies sample ballots that soon will be mailed to registered voters.

Montgomery County election board spokeswoman Marjorie Roher, for example, said she recorded a public service announcement for radio and cable television stressing how important it is for people to review the sample ballots.

“The critical thing for voters in this election is to really look at the sample ballot, look at the wording of the ballot questions and go ahead and mark your sample ballot so you’re not standing there at the machine,” Roher said.

The November ballot will contain more statewide questions than at any time since the 1970s, said state elections management Director Donna J. Duncan.

In addition to the seven referendum questions — on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to newly drawn congressional district boundaries — many counties also have their own referendums.

Anne Arundel County’s ballot, for example, includes 16 local questions.

The Maryland State Board of Elections currently is preparing the ballots for delivery to the county election boards, Duncan said.

Once the counties receive the ballots from the state election board, the electronic voting machines will be tested to make sure they are working properly.

“Then,” Roher said, “we’ll have all the machines prepared in precinct order, stacked on carts and prepared to go a week before the election, for when the trucks come to deliver them.”

The electronic machines used by the state do not have physical limitations on how many items they can handle, but voters will have to scroll down to see all the referendum questions, Duncan said.

Many polling places experienced long lines in the last presidential election, and they could be even longer this time around because of the number of referendum questions, Roher said.

State law requires one voting machine per 200 registered voters at a polling place.

Montgomery County has 229 polling places and needs to recruit and train more than 4,000 election judges. The training sessions already are under way for November, Roher said.

Paula Troxell, deputy director of the Carroll County Board of Elections, said officials are urging voters to make sure their registration is up-to-date and to read up on the referendum issues in advance.

“We’re a little concerned about the lines being long from people not being prepared for those questions, to be honest with you,” she said.

The public also should consider early voting to avoid lines on Election Day, Troxell said. Carroll County has 35 polling places.

“We’ve not had [ballot] questions like this before so it’s hard to predict,” Karin Kuntz, elections director for the Dorchester County Board of Elections, said of possible turnout and lines. “We’re really going to encourage early voting as well as absentee voting.”

Maryland GOP spokesman David Ferguson predicted the referendum questions will drive up voter turnout, but Democratic Party spokesman Matt Verghese said he thinks the turnout will remain consistent with past presidential elections.

“It gives [voters] more to vote on, but I don’t think it’s going to be a reason to vote,” Verghese said. “The national election is impetus enough.”

cford@gazette.net