Rascovar: What the early voting tsunami means

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By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

Well, now we know how to get Americans to vote in impressive numbers – present them with a choice between an outrageously controversial narcissist and an outrageous political shader of the truth – and then let the media turn the whole shebang into a smarmy Reality TV circus.

It’s worked wonders in propelling early voting across the country to record numbers this fall.

In Maryland, prior early-voting marks have been shattered every day. In just the first three days of early voting here, more citizens cast ballots than in the entire April primary early-voting period.

That’s quite a feat given the relatively small number of early-voting sites in Maryland even in high-density, heavy-voting counties.

Stone Age technology

paper ballotsMaking it even more arduous to cast a ballot is the state’s “new” voting system with a “Back to the Future” retro feel: You have to use a black pen to mark ye olde paper ballot.

Voters would be astounded to learn how much this Neanderthal-era system cost: $27 million.

The good news is that there’s a record of each vote cast, in case disputed close races require re-counts.

But the “new” voting process can be painfully slow, especially when lots and lots of citizens are anxious to cast a ballot in this nasty, steamy presidential election.

Not only do Marylanders have to stand in line to sign in, then stand in line a second time to mark ballots the old-fashioned way, they also have to stand in line a final time to feed their marked ballot into the recording machine that, among other things, takes a picture for posterity.

Too bad the touch-screen computer voting machines Maryland had used since 2002 couldn’t be adapted so they’d print copies of each vote cast. (It couldn’t be that hard: I can print anything at home from my little computer. But why question the ostensible wisdom of state solons when it comes to spending an extra $27 million for a clunky, backward-looking voting system.)

Early voting proving popular

The latest estimates are that 50 million Americans could vote early around the country in the 2016 presidential election. This doesn’t count the mail-in balloting which is now standard for all voters in Oregon and Colorado.

Folks who analyze early voting to pinpoint trends are in agreement there are many promising signs for Democrat Hillary Clinton in party registration numbers among early voters in battleground states. Clinton also has surged ahead in the number of newly registered Democratic voters in key states.

For Republican Donald Trump, the positive spin is that early voting is much preferred by older citizens – a category that favors Republican candidates.

The early voting numbers in Maryland illustrate why the Free State is such difficult terrain for Republicans running statewide. The most populous and most Democratic jurisdictions are dominating early voting tabulations by wide margins.

Moreover, the number of Democrats voting early is three times greater than the number of Republicans statewide.

Heavy early voting in Maryland is somewhat surprising given the lack of contested local offices up for grabs. Nearly all the state’s local elections take place in non-presidential years, the next one coming in 2018.

Yet people are flocking to cast a ballot.

Why voters show up early

The intensity of voters this fall is something to behold. Most have made their minds up and are chomping at the bit to vote. They want to hurry the process along so they can be done with this brutally ugly campaign that has dragged on unnecessarily for a year and a half.

No one looking at Maryland realistically expects Trump to win or even come within a country mile of Clinton.

He has alienated many GOP faithful, including Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr., and his presence seems to have energized the state’s hefty minority vote and liberal Democrats. They are deeply fearful of what a Trump presidency would mean for the nation’s safety and their well-being.

Trump supporters, meanwhile, are die-hard fans of the billionaire with the “say anything” attitude. They feel underappreciated and underrepresented in Washington. This is their chance to have their sentiments heard. They will vote for sure.

There just aren’t enough Trumpites in Maryland.

For instance, in the first three days of early voting more than 50 percent of the ballots cast came from heavily Democratic jurisdictions – Baltimore City and Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard and Baltimore counties. Not a good sign for the GOP.

We’re still a week away from E-Day. That means there could well be more surprises and twists for one or both of the presidential candidates. In politics you should always expected the unexpected.

So it’s wise to remember what my favorite social philosopher, Lawrence Peter Berra, once said: “It’s not over till it’s over” – on the night of Nov. 8.

Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.