Maryland breaks record for early voting on 1st day

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland voters lined up on Monday for a busy, record-breaking first day of in-person early voting in the state.

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While more than 1.6 million Maryland residents have requested mail-in ballots amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, residents at early voting centers said they felt strongly about voting in person.

Sarah Sweeny, a 65-year-old Democrat who voted for Democrat Joe Biden in Annapolis, said she believes this is one of the most important elections she's ever voted in. She said she felt like she had to vote against President Donald Trump in person.

“I’m just so tired. I’m tired of the lies and the deceit and this complete incompetence of leadership, and I just had to do this in person for that reason,” Sweeny said after voting at the Pip Moyer Recreation Center. "I’m just so tired and just need a change.”

Bruce Ballantyne, a Republican, said he already has mailed in his vote for Trump. Ballantyne, who came to the early voting center in Annapolis to hand out voter guides, said he believes the president has made good decisions. He described Trump as “the right man for the right time.”

“The economy before the virus was just going gangbusters — through the roof — so I think he makes good judgments, and he’s a businessman and he’s a pragmatist,” Ballantyne, who is 75, said. ”I'm pretty comfortable with what his results are and not gum-flapping and just talking like a politician."

Ron Howard, a Republican, said he initially requested an absentee ballot to mail in, but he decided to vote in person. He had to fill out a provisional ballot, so that election officials can check to make sure the absentee ballot wasn't mailed. Howard said he ended up feeling better about voting in person.

The 72-year-old who typically votes for Republicans said he didn't this time.

“I just absolutely can’t stand another four years of Trump, and so Joe is the man for me," Howard said, referring to Biden. "He has all of the characteristics that make sense for me for leadership, and I’m very hopeful the rest of the country feels that way.”

More than 125,000 people had voted at the state’s 81 early voting centers by 5 p.m., officials said. The previous high was 123,623 in 2016. Maryland has had early voting since 2010.

“It’s busy,” said Nikki Charlson, the deputy administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections.

More than 1 million Maryland residents have voted so far, when Monday's voting is added to more than 947,000 absentee ballots returned so far.

In addition to the presidential race, Maryland voters are deciding congressional races and two statewide ballot questions. One would allow sports betting. The other would give the state legislature more power in the state budget process.

Early voting in Maryland runs for eight consecutive days. That includes Saturday and Sunday. Early voting will end in Maryland the day before Election Day, which is Tuesday of next week.

Maryland has same-day voter registration, so residents who missed the advance voter registration deadline can register to vote at early voting and Election Day vote centers. They are open between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

The Maryland State Board of Elections says voters must wear a mask at voting centers and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet (2 meters) between other people.

Because of the pandemic, in-person early voting was not held during the June primary.