Prince George's County voters could tip the balance in Maryland's two most closely contested ballot initiatives on Election Day.
Polls have shown that Maryland voters are closely divided on referendums to expand gambling and legalize same-sex marriage, and Prince George's residents have been courted heavily in both campaigns.
The county's voters have unofficial veto power over part of the gambling initiative that would allow a Prince George's casino, and its abundance of religious, socially conservative black Democrats are widely seen as a pivotal demographic in the marriage battle.
"This is a really important election for us," said Pat Myers, an Adelphi resident who said her nearest early voting precinct had two-hour lines last week. "People are paying the most attention they've ever paid, from my perspective."
Of this year's seven statewide ballot questions, the one that most directly affects Prince George's voters is Question 7, which would allow table games at existing slots parlors and a new casino in the county.
Statewide passage would allow the table games, but approval of a Prince George's casino also unofficially requires majority support from the county's voters. The stipulation is not written into law, but state officials have said they would honor it if county voters reject the initiative.
Some residents say a local casino could bring crime and could fail to deliver the school funding that supporters have promised. Others say it could bring jobs and money to make the county into a respected tourist destination.
"I'm not a gambler myself, but I know that a lot of people do go to West Virginia and Delaware to gamble," said Warren Chambers of Bowie. "So why not stay right here and bring that money to the county?"
County voters are also at odds over Question 6, which would allow same-sex marriage. Many residents are torn over whether to side with the county's Democratic politics or honor religious beliefs that some say are in direct conflict with the legislation.
Gay marriage supporters have focused much of their strategy on winning over black Democrats, whom polls show are typically more religious and oppose gay marriage in greater numbers than white Democrats.
Pro-Question 6 groups have made inroads in the county by earning support from religious leaders, but there are still many holdouts.
"As far as legal rights, I don't have a problem with it," Mr. Chambers said. "But I'm a Christian, and I don't believe that it should be considered marriage because that's a biblical term for a man and a woman."
While residents say they have gauged heightened interest in this year's election, county Board of Elections officials said they expect participation to be on par with 2008's record turnout, when 76 percent of the county's registered voters cast ballots.
About 12.3 percent of county voters cast ballots during last week's early voting, exceeding the statewide rate of 11.7 percent.
Delegate Jay Walker, Prince George's Democrat, said he expects the county's significance to grow in future elections.
"We have more Democratic votes than any county in the state, so we should always have a voice," he said. "I think people are starting to see the real importance of Prince George's County."
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