More than 110,000 Montgomery County residents cast ballots through the first six days of in-person early voting to lead the state with more votes yet to come.
Through Tuesday, local election officials counted 110,554 ballots, 16.83 percent of registered active voters in the county. Those numbers do not include absentee or provisional ballots.
That made up about 18 percent of the statewide total of 609,520 early votes, meaning 15.63 percent of Maryland’s 3.9 million eligible voters cast ballots through the first six days.
Early voting is due to wrap up statewide Nov. 4 at 8 p.m.
The popularity of early voting surprised Montgomery County Board of Elections officials, who had to add extra optical scan machines at some of the 10 locations across the county hosting early voting.
“When the turnout exceeded our expectation, in order to minimize the lines, we got additional equipments down to the various locations to assist with line management,” said Marjorie Roher, a spokesperson with the Board of Elections, later adding, “No one envisioned this kind of turnout for voting.”
Voting centers in Wheaton and Potomac received an extra two machines, bumping their total up to four, according to the Wheaton and Potomac center managers, Sara Rivera and Andrew Gallant.
“We had no idea turnout was going to be this high,” Rivera said.
In Gaithersburg, chief election judge Ben Martin said center officials had to open the social hall’s partition in order in order to ease the flow of voting.
“Our issue was congestion at the voting booths,” he said.
In Germantown, chief election judge Sam Hogan said the Community Recreation Center started with three optical scan machines and received a fourth Friday after 2,807 people cast ballots during the first day of early voting.
He said the maximum wait time on Tuesday was about 20 minutes.
Like Rivera and Gallant, he reported “no real problems” with people checking in to vote or casting ballots.
“Occasionally, you have a ballet that jams in the scanner,” he said, adding there has been “nothing out of the ordinary” so far.
As for ensuring the integrity of the ballot, Hogan said, “These machines are never connected to the Internet. So, no, they cannot be cracked from the outside.”
The Silver Spring Civic Building hosted the most voters through the first six days with 15,053 people casting ballots.
One of two locations in Silver Spring to host early voting, the center also had the most voters on a single day in the county with 2,999 on the first day of early voting, Oct. 27.
Conversely, the Damascus Community Recreation Center received the fewest early votes with 1,099.
Tish Brush, the chief election judge in Damascus, voters could walk in, check in and vote without standing in line Tuesday afternoon.
“We’ve had very little wait times here,” she said. “I think it’s because of population density. There aren’t a lot of people who live out here.”
Damascus stayed steady with two optical scan machines during the first week.
County residents can cast ballots at any one of the 10 voting sites throughout the county, regardless of where in the county they live.
For voters who want to avoid lines, “this is the place to go,” said Brush.
Meanwhile in Burtonsville, chief election judge Lisa Mundy said the Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center received “record turnout” during the first two days of early voting, with 5,124 voters casting ballots throughout Thursday and Friday.
Likewise, election officials added a fourth optical scan machine to the center during the weekend she said, noting wait times Tuesday averaged between seven to 15 minutes.
During the first six days of early voting, voter turnout affected multiple aspects of a voter’s experience, ranging from the average wait time to the ability to find parking.
On Tuesday, evening voters approaching the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad waited at least 15 minutes at some points just to make a left-hand turn onto Arcola Avenue, only to find police guiding traffic into the parking lot.
Roher said the electoral board members do not envision the fire station as a long-term location.
However, she added, “The board members thought this was the best option available to us to best serve the Wheaton community as possible.”
With the library and community center both closed to make room for a new building, some voters parked across the street in the construction lot, which Roher said is not allowed.
“They're not supposed to be doing that so that could be a potential problem,” she said.
According to Roher, “Parking is very limited at Wheaton and so we've been trying to encourage people who live near the Wheaton center to drive 3. 5 miles up the street to the Mid-County Center. There's more parking there and of course the Silver Spring center is just down Georgia Avenue and they have that large parking lot just across the street.”
At the Mid-County Community Recreation Center, first-time voter Alicia Beatley said voting was “actually very quick.
“This was quick and easy,” said the Rockville resident.
Beatley said she became a naturalized United States citizen last month after living in the country since 1978, just in time to vote.
“It was very important, it was one of the most important reasons why I did it,” she said.
Amber Price, the chief election judge for the Mid-County Center, said county election officials sent over a third optical scan machine after the center opened with two of them.
Price said the average wait time lasted between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on “spurts” of foot traffic.
Like in Damascus, poll workers in Silver Spring cheered and applauded when they confirmed they checked in first-time voters.
Those voting at all 10 early voting centers tended to be Democrats.
In all, Democrats cast nearly 71 percent of all the votes in Montgomery County with 78,367 ballots, outpacing Republican voters by 63,922 voters.
A greater percentage of total registered Democrats (20.4 percent) showed up through the first six days than Republicans (11.9 percent).
Unaffiliated voters (15 percent) also topped Republicans (13 percent) by a margin of 16,933 to 14,445 votes.
Libertarians (217 votes), Green Party members (146 votes) and other voters (456 votes) made up the rest of the early votes.
Nearly 66 percent of all early votes cast throughout the state during the first six days came from Democrats (400,293 voters) while Republicans cast almost 22 percent (133,721 voters) of all ballots, about twice as many as unaffiliated voters (11 percent, 69,601 voters).
Meanwhile in neighboring Prince George’s County, Democrats ran up an even higher percentage of the vote, claiming 95,069 out of 108,441 voters in the county with the second-largest voter turnout.
According to Geoff Skelley, a political analyst at University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, early voting is up nationally this year.
While the staff at the Center for Politics anticipates up to 40 percent of the total vote in the country might be cast early, Skelley noted that total still leaves “a ton of votes” that will still be cast on Election Day.
“Maryland’s not going to be close,” said Skelley, regarding the outcome of the presidential race. “But I guess what I can say is that it seems that states that do have early voting, it seems there is an increase in the use of it and that is just true nationally so it just may be that Montgomery County and Maryland as a whole are no different.”
Skelley noted the data from most states “confirms Democrats are more likely to take advantage of early voting,” though he added in Florida, Democrats lead in in-person early voting but Republicans lead in mail-in ballots.
“I think it’s still likely that Democrats are ones using it more and (in) Montgomery County, (President Barack) Obama won it 71-27 last time; that’s a pretty overwhelming victory in a locality,” he said.