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High voter turnout, few glitches in Prince George’s County  (MD)

Ryan McDermott    Gazette.Net     12 February 2008

A high turnout of voters and few glitches were reported at polling places in Prince George’s County early Tuesday as voting got under way in the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries as well as in a few county races.

Fuelling the high turnout is the Democratic contest that pits U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton against Sen. Barack Obama. A higher than normal turnout is also expected in the District 4 congressional race in which Democratic incumbent Albert R. Wynn and challenger Donna Edwards are in a fierce battle to win the nomination. The Fourth District spans Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

Polls scheduled to open at 7 a.m. at Potomac High School in Oxon Hill were delayed by half an hour. A long line subsequently formed outside the polling station, and election official Bill Senior said it was because polling officials did not have the computer code needed to get the machines running.

Election judge Lonnie Henderson said he was frustrated with the delay.

‘‘This is a circus, man,” he said.

Oxon Hill resident Natasha Thomas, 29, arrived early to cast her vote before getting to work, but said she had to leave before the machines started running.

‘‘The machines aren’t working,” she said. ‘‘But I’ll come back later.”

At Palmer Park Community Center, voters found a small sign on the door telling them to go to John Carroll Elementary School in Landover to cast their ballots, a distance that some complain is too far for the many seniors who want to vote.

Yvonne Stewart, a Palmer Park resident who came out to vote at the community center, said many Palmer Park residents are seniors without cars.

A line formed at Glenn Dale Elementary School a half-hour before polls opened. Residents who arrived at the polling station early reported that it took at least an hour for them to register their votes.

Several residents said even though there were six voting machines, only three were in operation.

Lanham resident Linda Collins said her daughter arrived early and did not get a chance to vote until around 8 a.m. Unlike her daughter, Collins said she was unwilling to wait that long.

‘‘I’m going to come back later when there aren’t quite as many people,” Collins said.

Christopher Sabis, who works with Election Protection, a nonprofit that monitors polling places, said no glitches were apparent at Oxon Hill Elementary School.

‘‘There has been a very high turnout,” he said. ‘‘There are lines but they are reasonable lines.”

In Upper Marlboro, the opening of a new polling location this year at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden left some voters confused. Many had voted previously at either Perrywood Elementary School, located across the street from First Baptist, or Evangel Cathedral on Central Avenue.

At Perrywood, election judges asked residents to double-check their voter registrations to determine their correct polling station.

Election judge Linda Bell said if voters were unsure where to go, they would be allowed to cast provisional ballots. By 9 a.m., only about eight provisional ballots had been cast.

Bell said that apart from the minor hiccup, the voting process has been smooth.

‘‘In past years, the line would go in the hall, down past the teachers’ lounge and out into the parking lot,” Bell said. ‘‘This year the line barely wrapped around the hallway.”

Yet, it took Upper Marlboro resident Sharlene Flood, 38, about an hour to cast her ballot.

Bell blamed the slower process on the on-the-spot printing of ballots used for the first time at Perrywood this year. Voters are being asked to sign the printed ballots to confirm that they had voted.

‘‘We only have three printing machines,” Bell said. ‘‘I think we should have had four.”

Upper Marlboro resident Karen Lynch-Richardson was displeased at her 75-minute-wait at First Baptist in the morning but said it paled in comparison to the four hours she waited to vote at Perrywood in the last election.

The polls close at 8 p.m.

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