By EMMETT GARTNER, ABBY ZIMMARDI, TIMOTHY DASHIELL AND SHANNON CLARK
SILVER SPRING, Md. — A light breeze and a flurry of yellow leaves followed voters as they trickled inside the Silver Spring Civic Building to cast their ballots.
It was one of the many election locations Capital News Service visited on the first day of early voting in Maryland.
In mostly Democratic Montgomery County, voters told Capital News Service the threat to democracy and abortion rights were their main issues.
“I vote every year, every election,” said Stanley White, a consultant from Wheaton. “It’s critical, especially in these days and times, it’s more critical than ever.”
White said he voted a straight Democratic ticket in the statewide races; Wes Moore and Aruna Miller for governor and lieutenant governor, Rep. Anthony Brown for attorney general and Del. Brooke Lierman, Baltimore, for comptroller.
“I’m concerned about advancing civil liberties and building a better education system for my daughter,” he said.
James Jackson, a retired veteran from Silver Spring, said the idea of saving democracy was paramount to him. Jackson said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June made him feel democracy was at risk.
“I believe in a woman’s right to choose,” he said. “To me, it’s a personal issue for the woman and whoever their mate might be.”
Merym Boulale, an unemployed woman also from Silver Spring, said abortion rights were on the top of her list of concerns. Other issues, Boulale said, were the economy and crime.
“I used to bring my kids here to play in this particular place,” Boulale said, referring to the heart of downtown Silver Spring. “We’ve seen an uptick in teenagers smoking around here and a lot more violence.”
Voting Thursday morning in Silver Spring was light, according to election officials.
All of the Montgomery County voters Capital News Service spoke to said they voted in favor of Question 4, which would legalize the recreational use of marijuana for Marylanders 21 years or older.
“I think that if we continue to criminalize (marijuana), we’re incarcerating people and taking away their job prospects unnecessarily,” White said.
At the Bain Senior Center, an election location in Columbia, elderly residents steadily poured into the facility around lunchtime. Campaigners for the board of education, state senate and county executive had booths and volunteers in the parking lot. A ballot drop-box was set up near the entrance of the center.
Eugene Schulman, a retired federal employee and Columbia resident, said the center’s location next to the Columbia Athletic Club made voting more accessible for him.
“I go to the gym across the way,” Schulman said. “I usually (vote) early.”
“Hopefully the candidates won’t be as much for themselves as they are for the general population. On both sides, particularly in Congress, I think there are too many that are power hungry.”
Thursday was brisk, even cold to some, with temperatures around 55 degrees in the morning. Ian and Linda Paris, a retired couple who live in Columbia, saw it otherwise.
“It’s a nice day and we thought it would be a good idea to get out and vote today,” Ian Paris said.
While a focus for many has been on the gubernatorial election, they said the county executive was the most important decision on the ballot this year for them.
In Baltimore County, early voters arrived at a slow pace but often with the same message: Wes Moore was their guy. Many showed admiration and pledged their allegiance to the Democratic nominee.
“I’m voting for Moore because he seems to have a better plan for education,” said David Bryant, a flight attendant from Randallstown.
“I’ve got two toddlers, and I know they’ll be in school before I know it,” Bryant said. “I want people in office that are going to create the strongest school system possible.”
Crime was a key issue for voters at the Baltimore City polls.
“The biggest issue here in Baltimore City is the crime,” said Maria Yu of West Baltimore. “We need a governor that’s going to work with Mayor Scott and not fight him when it’s time to get things done for Baltimore.”
Carroll County voter Keith Prather said crime factored into his voting decision.
“I want a governor that’s going to be tough on crime,” said Prather, who lives in Sykesville. “I’m tired of fearing for my life every time I go to see the Ravens or the O’s.”
Prather said he voted for Dan Cox after hearing of Moore’s plans on fighting crime.
“I can’t support someone that’s going to defund the police,” Prather said. “All this crime going on, and you want to defund the police. Ridiculous.”
Moore has never publicly advocated for reducing budgets for law enforcement.
At Rollingcrest-Chillum Community Center in Prince George’s County, there was a steady, but slow voter turnout. Lawrence White, went to the center to vote for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore who is running against Republican Dan Cox.
“He outweighs [Dan Cox] by a long shot,” White said.
White, 70 and a preacher, said although he is a registered Democrat, he voted for Gov. Larry Hogan, R, in the last election and would vote for him if he ran for president. He said he does not vote for one party, but instead chooses who he thinks is the best person for the job.
Democrat Chief Judge Tomasha Thomas said the community center is located in a senior citizen community. So, the majority of turnout is from people in the immediate neighborhood, she said. She said she expects voting to pick up Saturday and Sunday.
Sitting inside the voting center with Thomas was Republican Chief Judge Michelle Stawinski. Their roles were to make “sure that it is a free and fair election, that all of the procedures are followed and that every voter has an opportunity to come in and vote,” Stawinski said.
About 20 minutes north of the Rollingcrest-Chillum Community Center is the College Park Community Center, also an early voting site. Residents could also register to vote.
Jacob Friess, 43, recently moved to Maryland from Wisconsin. He registered and voted for the first time in the state.
He said the whole process – registering and voting – took about 30 minutes.