By DAVID HILL
WASHINGTON (Nov. 1, 2008)—State and local officials are expecting record turnout on Election Day and are making a last-ditch effort to ensure that both they and voters are prepared.
The Maryland State Board of Elections will utilize significantly more poll workers and voting equipment than in past years, said Elections Administrator Linda Lamone.
The board is expecting up to 85 percent of registered Maryland voters to cast ballots Tuesday, which would break the record of 81 percent set in 1992, according to the board. Officials have gone to great lengths to educate those voters.
"We definitely have increased the voter outreach that we did over the past couple of months," said Betty Nordaas, election director for Howard County. "We have been at the local grocery stores and various community events."
Polls open Tuesday at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m., however, anyone in line at 8 p.m. will still be able to cast a ballot.
One of elections officials' top priorities has been to make sure that people know their assigned voting place. In past years, voters have gone to the wrong precinct and been allowed to cast provisional ballots. All of their votes were counted, except those for races outside their correct district.
For instance, a ballot cast in the wrong congressional district would have the presidential and Senate votes counted, but the congressional vote excluded.
That was until a 2006 state Court of Appeals ruling that outlawed partial counting of ballots cast in the wrong voting district. This year, provisional ballots cast outside of a voter's assigned district will be disregarded.
If a voter goes to the wrong precinct, "the election judge will explain to the voter what his or her options are," Nordaas said. "So that he or she understands that it might be best for the voter to go to the correct poll."
Voters arriving at the polls Tuesday should identify their correct polling place and be familiar with candidates and ballot questions, Lamone said.
"We are asking the voters to please review the sample ballot that they have received in the mail from their local election board," she said. "Mark on it what you want and bring it with you to the polls."
Those who can't make it to the polls can still cast an absentee ballot. The deadline to request one by mail passed Nov. 28, but voters can still request a ballot in person at their local election board office.
"Approximately 300-400 voters have been coming into our lobby during the day" to request absentee ballots, Nordaas said. "Most of them are voting the absentee ballots right here in the lobby."
Completed absentee ballots must be returned to the local board of elections either by hand before 8 p.m. Election Day or by mail, postmarked no later than Election Day, Nov. 4.
Contrary to belief by some, they are always counted, regardless of whether they affect the outcome of a race. The state will count absentee ballots on Thursday, Nov. 6, and Friday, Nov. 14, according to the State Board of Elections' Web site.
The site has a section dedicated to dispelling other election rumors. It puts to rest the notion that voters wearing campaign paraphernalia could be turned away at the polls.
"Voters in Maryland can wear whatever they want to the polls," Lamone said."They just cannot linger or campaign in the polling place."
With the help of an informed public, state officials said they are more than ready to meet the demands that Tuesday will bring.
"We have quite a number of people who have volunteered," Nordaas said. "We feel as though we're very prepared."
The Maryland State Board of Elections can be reached by phone at 410-269-2840, toll-free at 1-800-222-8683 or at its Web site, http://www.elections.state.md.us/.
A list of local election boards can be found at http://www.elections.state.md.us/about/county_boards.html.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.