WORCESTER COUNTY– Following an abysmal primary turnout, early signs point toward an increase in participation during the general election.
When early voting opened at 10 a.m. at the Gull Creek Senior Center in Berlin on Thursday, Oct. 23, at least a dozen people lined up at the door, standing in the nearly freezing rain and waiting patiently to cast their ballots. Poll workers with the Worcester County Board of Elections said nearly 700 people voted during the vote’s first day, good for more than half the total accumulated during the entire week of primary early voting.
Board of Elections Supervisor Patti Jackson was optimistic about the early numbers.
“It’s encouraging,” she said. “We definitely expect a bigger turnout after the primary when there were a lot of unopposed races. There are still a few unopposed, but not many, and of course this is what people consider the big election – a lot of people don’t consider the primary a true election.”
Jackson advised voters to come out during the “slower times” from 1-3 p.m.
Lanny Hickman, chairman of the Democratic Club of Ocean City/Berlin, was among the earliest voters.
“I’m here because it’s my constitutional right and it’s the only way that we have the opportunity to pick the people that govern for us,” he said.
Ed and Lenora Berger chose to vote early because they planned to be out of town on election day.
“We do it every cycle,” Ed said. “We like the ability to get here early before the crowds and not have to wait as long. You also have the ability to get help if you need it. It’s good to see that there’s a line and people that are exercising their ability to vote.”
“It’s also lot more organized,” Lenora said. “We chose to vote early because we are leaving for Arizona and we wanted to be sure to vote for the person that we feel would be best for the job.”
A number of candidates for political office were present as well, braving the rain with hot cups of coffee while making their last-minute pitches to potential voters.
Diana Purnell, Democratic candidate for District 2 Worcester County Commissioner, arrived just after doors opened at 10 a.m.
“From the cars in the parking lot I think it’s going to be a good turnout, and that’s always good,” she said. “I think, because candidates have been out talking their issues, turnout will be higher. I think it we’re going to see a good turnout.”
Purnell expressed confidence, although she was not taking any chances.
“I think I’m going to be seated, but I’ll be here all week in and out,” she said. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
“Right now it’s pretty busy and pretty steady, which is good,” Susan Braniecki, Republican candidate for Worcester County Circuit Court Clerk, said. “I think we’ll have a bigger turnout for the general. Nobody is at the beach today and they’re not on vacation somewhere else.”
Braniecki said she was confident of victory, but still wanted to take no chances.
“So I’m out here in all kinds of weather making people know that I really want this job,” she said.
Allyson Bernard-Church, wife of District 3 Commissioner Bud Church, campaigned for her husband under a tent sponsored by area Republicans.
“There’s a lot of cars in and out,” she said. “I hope it stays steady and that the weather doesn’t deter people, because we’ll be here all day,” she said.
Any time you have an opponent, Bernard-Church said, you “run like you’re 30 percent behind.”
Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby also dubbed the early turnout, “a success.”
“There were several people who showed up even earlier than 10 o’clock who had other things to do, so they’ll be back later,” he said. “There was a line prior to the doors opening with at least a dozen people. I’d say it’s a great turnout for the first day of early voting, especially with the weather.”
Oglesby, the Republican candidate for office, said he would remain at Gull Creek all week.
“This is an opportunity to have face-to-face contact at one polling location with people who you know are voting,” he said. “It’s absolutely important that I be out here so I can spread my message, answer questions and just show voters that I love my job and want to be reelected.”
Although he was pleased with the initial turnout, Oglesby was unsure if voter participation would increase overall.
“I have no expectations,” he said. “There are people that get paid to figure that stuff out. I don’t know what drives voter apathy. I don’t know what necessarily motivates a good turnout – I just want to be here for those who participate in the process.
Tom Wilson, Democratic Candidate for Worcester County Commissioner District 5, said turnout was larger than he expected considering the weather.
“I’m reasonably optimistic,” he said. “I’ve been busy doing a lot of direct mail, a lot of door-to-door. We’re going to start get-out-the-vote phone calls. It’ll be fun.”
Like many of the other candidates, Wilson planned to campaign at the site all week.
“I think it’s going to be a close race and I think it’s going to depend on turnout more than anything,” he said. “You work as hard as you can until you get to the end, and then you either laugh or cry.”
Early voting continues at Gull Creek through Oct. 30, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Polls open on Nov. 4 general election at 7 a.m. and remain open until 8 p.m.