Paul Gordon: Early voting is easier than installing a new computer -- Gazette.Net



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On the first day of early voting in Frederick County on Oct. 25, we voted at 4 p.m. at the county senior center on Taney Avenue.

For two days prior, I had been trying to load a new computer with programs and files, and I think my wife saw that I was growing frustrated. I was angry that I had used computers for about 45 years, and what was to be an easy task had been most perplexing, even after buying conversion gadgets and instructions.

At least we knew I had the knowledge (hopefully) to use a voting machine. I found the rather complex ballot a relief from a computer that in the conversion lost files and froze. My wifeís suggestion was to pull the plug and get an expert who knew what he was doing.

We hoped we would get to vote before the much-heralded storm began. Early voting is new in Maryland, and we expected the people of Frederick County would, for the most part, ignore the process. We were in for a surprise.

We knew immediately that a lot of people had the same idea as we did because parking in and around the senior center was filled. A vast sea of political signs 100 feet from the polls limited visibility as we approached. The parking lot was packed, and parking along the curb was difficult, resulting in heavy traffic as parkers circled the block.

The line waiting to enter the building overflowed almost to where the political signs were planted. Inside the building, people were lined up to register and to vote. Never before had we seen so many voters at one time. Surprisingly, the process took only about 30 minutes. We were told by one of the election judges that about 1,500 had voted by that hour with four hours left until the polls closed.

But we also were told that when the polls opened earlier that day, the line outside had wound its way to the curb of Taney Avenue and then right to the parking lot of the American Legion building, where parking was easier.

Long lines were not unusual at the Marylandís polls, nor were people upset about the long wait to vote, according to news reports. Some voters saw it as a convenience. Many voters lived far from their place of employment, and being able to vote on a day off eliminated the weekday rush to get to the polls or not bother to vote.

Then came Frankenstorm Sandy which shut the early voting locations for two days. The governor extended the voting to give more people the opportunity to vote after the storm had passed. And the voters took the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right, making early voting a success despite the superstorm.

Early voting in the United States has been gaining in popularity. In 1992, just 7 percent of the votes were cast early in a presidential election. That expanded to 16 percent in 2000 and 22 percent in 2004. In 2008, it began to become a major factor with 30.6 percent of the votes cast early for president.

For the first time, the District of Columbia allowed early voting in its primary election in 2010. In Florida, it began in 2004, and about a million people voted. There were problems with computer failures, erased votes and a lack of early voting sites. In Georgia, early voting begins as much as 45 days before the election, but it is not available statewide. Ten foreign countries have a form of early voting.

Challenge one spent at the polls was a success. Now back to challenge two — the computer.

Paul Gordon, a local historian, was mayor of Frederick from 1990 to 1994. Reach him at prg202@comcast.net.