Baltimore votes, picking a mayor



BALTIMORE (Nov. 3, 2020)—The once familiar election routines were replaced this year with virtual campaigns, socially distant debates, masks and sanitized polling stations.

But Election Day in Baltimore still felt a bit like a celebration of civic duty, and Baltimoreans said they felt good about exercising their right to vote.

"Liberating … to feel part of something bigger than yourself," said Archie Jones, who works for the city Board of Elections and was running supplies to voting centers.

Across the city, people came out to elect a president and a mayor as well as a City Council and a congressperson in the middle of a pandemic. Because of the coronavirus, the city couldn't staff the more than 300 polling places it did in 2016. Just 24 centers were open yesterday.

Brandon Scott, now the City Council president and the Democratic candidate for mayor, was expected to win easily against Republican and unaffiliated candidates.

And although early voting and mail-in ballots set a record in the state, on Election Day voters were still coming to the polls—most of them motivated by national issues.

Emanuel Holley, 35, said he came to vote at Baltimore City Community College because "I want to see Trump out of office."

In July of 2019, President Donald Trump called Baltimore a "disgusting, rat- and rodent-infested mess," while attacking the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat.

Baltimoreans like Holley haven't forgotten.

The West Baltimore resident used to admire Trump for speaking his mind. Now, Holley says, everything that comes out of Trump's mouth is "inflammatory." "I don't like all the divisiveness," he said.

But even in a city dominated by Democrats, the president has some fans.

"At all costs, I don't want Joe Biden to get into office," said Donald Wills, who was voting at Violetville Elementary/Middle School in the southwestern part of Baltimore.

Not everyone was as partisan. The voters also included people worried about the economy and their local communities.

"We need stability," said Kim Fisher, a resident of the Lake-Walker community in Baltimore who took an Uber to the Western High School voting center.

Fisher added she is not happy with the direction Baltimore is heading and is worried about growing crime in her neighborhood.

"I usually vote in every election," Fisher said. "I want my voice to be heard."

At Violetville Elementary/Middle School, Jayna Powell was bundled up in a winter coat as she handed out snacks and water to voters. It was windy Tuesday morning, but the Baltimore Votes volunteer says she wanted to thank residents for showing up to the polls. Baltimore Votes is a non-partisan non-profit formed in 2017 to encourage voting.

Powell was impressed by the determination of some older voters.

She said a 94-year-old woman walked to her usual polling location, where she had been voting since the 1940s, only to find her location was one of the many closed this election. So the woman walked a mile and a half to the Violetville school to exercise her right to vote. Powell said they called an Uber to take her home.

And Powell said a 93-year-old man, who had voted in the Pigtown neighborhood his whole life, was surprised to see his polling place closed Tuesday. He also came to Violetville to vote.

Though they could have voted by mail or voted early, some voters said they just liked participating on the exact day.

"We are old school," William and Stacie Gueron said as they left the Violetville voting center. The couple said they preferred voting in a "traditional way."

"It is called Election Day, so we choose to vote on that day, not prior," William Gueron said.

Stacie Gueron, a retired middle school teacher, had taught at the Violetville school, so voting there was important to her. "Voting is a sentimental experience for me. I just saw three people I knew just inside." Gueron said.

David Hawkins, who owns a company that repairs and services diesel engines, came to Violetville in his work uniform. "It's just a relief to exercise one of our rights," he said.

Hawkins said he'd offered his six employees time off to vote. None had taken him up on it. He was going back to the shop to try again. "I want them to vote. C'mon, man," he said.

Hawkins said he came to the polls because of "the economy, really. Small business. I guess that's selfish. And health care. Coronavirus is on the list."

"How did things get this way?" he wondered. "Most people, they just want to love everybody and treat everybody the same."

Many skeptics of mail-in voting also waited until Election Day to vote.

After voting by mail in the primary, Brenda Adkins and Tasha Francis made sure to vote in person Tuesday.

"We don't believe that our primary vote counted in the primary elections, as it did not seem to make a difference," Francis said.

And they both said the United States Postal Service has had so many issues, and drop boxes seemed so insecure, that they wanted to come in person.

Across town, at Baltimore City Community College, Tyree Johnson, 18, was a first-time voter from West Baltimore. He requested a mail-in ballot but said it never came, so he showed up at the college to cast his ballot in person.

"I don't pay too much attention to politics," Johnson said, "but I know it's all wrong."

Almost 85% of Baltimoreans voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, with 10.5% of the vote for Trump.

But the turnout in this election was far higher, in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 10 to 1.

Even Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who has seen wide popularity across the state, did not carry Baltimore in the last election.

The last time Baltimore elected a Republican mayor was in 1963, when Theodore R. McKeldin won and served his second term. The last Republican member of the City Council was Daniel Ellison, who resigned in 1942.

Franca Muller Paz, running for the council's District 12 seat as a Green Party candidate, ran a strong campaign, winning an endorsement Monday from Councilman Zeke Cohen in a break with the Democratic party.

Baltimore residents also had several special issues on the ballot this year, including city charter questions that would give the City Council more power in budgeting, reduce the number of votes needed to override a mayoral veto and create a city administrator position.

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