By MICHAELLE BOND
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (October 22, 2010)No matter what other reasons Kent County residents have for not voting early in this election, not many can say they didn't know about it.
The county's Board of Elections sent early voting fliers to each household and posted reminders on its website. It pushed people to vote early as an alternative to voting absentee and a county radio station, WCTR, announced information about early voting to listeners.
So it's no surprise Kent County had the highest early voting turnout in September's primary, with 6.8 percent participation among active, eligible voters who cast their ballots in person, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections. The county hopes to stay on top of the list when early voting for the general election begins Friday.
But most research indicates no statewide increase in voter turnout for the primary, the first time early voting was offered, said Ross Goldstein, Maryland State Board of Elections deputy administrator.
"Early voting doesn't necessarily correlate to an increase in turnout," he said. It gives those who do vote more chances to do so, he said.
Only about 2.4 percent of Maryland voters voted early in the primary.
"Some might feel the percentage was modest," Goldstein said. But the percentage should improve with each year the state offers and advertises the convenience of early voting, he said.
Early voting centers will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 22-28, except Sunday Oct. 24. The State Board of Elections website lists early voting centers by county.
The state Board of Elections will assess this round of early voting "to refine the process and see where changes need to be made," Goldstein said.
The 2012 presidential election will have its own challenges because of higher voter turnout, Goldstein said.
"It's good to get the 'lessons learned' now, so when we go into the presidential election, we'll know what to expect," he said.
For example after the general election, the board will look into the locations and sizes of the early voting places it chose. Some of the rooms weren't big enough during the primary, so the board will assess the need for larger facilities, Goldstein said.
The Washington County early voting location—an empty former PNC Bank building—was a main reason why the county had the lowest early voting turnout in the primary, Election Director Kaye Robucci said.
"There's no reason to go there except to early vote," Robucci said. Other counties had early voting at senior centers or libraries, where a lot of people come and go, she said.
Only about 1 percent of Washington County voters voted early.
The county did not have time to change the polling place for this election, but plans to change the site for the next one, she said. The county has increased advertising to try to make up for the location and hopes early voter turnout will rise as well.
"I just think it's going to increase every year," Rubucci said. "So I'm just excited to see what our turnout is this time."
Voter turnout increased in Kent County during the primaries and the county hopes this will also be true for the general election, said Cheemoandia Blake, Kent County Board of Elections director.
"We had a lot of voters tell us they really appreciate early voting," Blake said. The accessibility appeals to voters, because if they forget to vote one day, they have other opportunities to do so, she said.
But some voters would just rather skip early voting.
"I always vote the day of," Joe Collins, 41, of Baltimore said at gubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich's primary victory party on Sept. 14. The Election Day atmosphere—with the lines, people handing out pamphlets and trades of playful insults with other voters—is more fun, he said.
Those who like the excitement of Election Day can vote Nov. 2 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at their designated polling places.