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Maryland Voting Is Extended Until 9:30
Washington Post. February 12, 2008. by Philip Rucker

Icy weather and congested traffic prompted Maryland to extend voting hours until 9:30 p.m. at polls across the state, state elections officials said.

Polling places, which had been scheduled to close at 8 p.m., will remain open an additional 90 minutes after the Maryland Board of Elections asked an Anne Arundel County judge to issue an emergency order, said Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator of the elections board.

Elections officials petitioned for the extension at 7 p.m. after receiving calls from precincts across the state where voters have been having problems getting to the polls due to the wintry weather, Goldstein said.

"There's a lot of concern that a lot of voters because of the roads wouldn't be able to get to the polls," he said.

As required by federal law, all ballots cast during the extended 90 minutes will be provisional ballots, which are on paper, Goldstein said. Elections officials will not count the provisional ballots until next Tuesday, he said.

Goldstein said federal law requires all ballots cast during the extended period be counted separately from other ballots in case there is a legal challenge to the extension.

"In case that order is challenged, the ballots can be taken out of the count," Goldstein said.

In his ruling, Judge Ronald A. Silkworth wrote that he decided to extend voting hours after "having found that emergency circumstances have interfered and are continuing to interfere with the electoral process, and having found that action by this Court is necessary to provide a remedy that is in the public interest and protects the integrity of the electoral process."

Marjorie Roher, spokeswoman at the Board of Elections in Montgomery County, the state's largest jurisdiction, said several polling places in Maryland have had weather-related problems.

John Flynn, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said he has received calls from scores of voters stuck in traffic on clogged roadways and worried they would not make it to the polls before they closed.

"People have been stuck in traffic for an hour, two hours, and people were getting concerned they won't be able to participate in their civic duty to vote," Flynn said. "There's enough accidents right now and people are frantically trying to get to their polls by 8 o'clock, so it will give people more time to get to the polls."

David Paulson, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, said party officials were concerned about the impact the weather conditions would have on voting. He applauded elections officials for extending polling hours.

"I hope those who were able to vote took advantage of the extra time," Paulson said.

Ann-Marie Wildman, 43, of Largo, pulled off the Beltway about 8 p.m. thinking she had missed her chance to vote at her precinct. An accident on Interstate 395 and slippery roads had delayed her.

"And then a couple of minutes later they extended the hours, I continued on," she told staff writer Daniel de Vise as she was exiting the Largo Kettering library about 8:20 p.m.

Another voter, Renee Richardson, of Glenarden, was nearly in an accident on her way to the polls, reports staff writer Nelson Hernandez. Richardson was driving from a store on Central Avenue in Prince George's County, and as she turned onto Route 202, her car hit a patch of ice. Her Mazda RX8 nearly did a 360 a turn so violent that her cell phone flew out the window.

"I just kept going," she said. "Angels were with me."

Richardson said she cast her vote for Barack Obama, as well as Donna Edwards, a challenger in the 4th congressional district race.

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