- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Renee Whitlock of Bowie was hoping to beat the Election Day rush by arriving at her polling station at 6:45 a.m. yesterday.

Two hours later, Mrs. Whitlock emerged wearily from the polling station at Evangel Cathedral in Upper Marlboro after casting her ballot for a straight Democratic ticket.

“Some people just had to walk away because they had been waiting so long,” said Mrs. Whitlock, who works as a federal employee in the District. “It’s been frustrating, but [voting] is important so I just stuck it out.”

Throughout the morning, voters in this largely black, mostly Democratic precinct waited two hours to vote. By midday, the average wait had increased to 2 hours.

“The parties — both of them — have done a good job turning out the party base this election,” said Sam Hutchinson, 56, a lawyer from Bowie who waited two hours, 15 minutes to vote. “And for myself, I’m a Democrat, so I’m very glad to see the heavy turnout in this area.”

Some minor glitches with some of the precinct’s electronic voter-card reading machines in the morning may have contributed to the backlog, but long waits mostly were the result of heavy voter turnout, poll workers said.

“We have 18 voting machines and they’re all working fine,” said Gloria Moore, the precinct’s Democratic chief judge. “There’s nothing else we could do. We have enough workers and they’re working hard. We just need more [voting] machines.”

Many longtime Prince George’s voters said they never waited so long to vote, including during presidential elections.

“This is an incredible turnout,” said Rep. Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat, who stopped by the precinct. “We need more voting machines here. That just tells you the voter turnout in Prince George’s County is increasing dramatically.”

Curtis Townsell, 69, of Upper Marlboro, blamed technology for the longer lines.

“The old ballots with the levers, people were familiar with them,” he said. “I think the new technology, and the rush to get the data flow out right away, is kind of slowing down the process.”

Prince George’s County, the most affluent majority-black county in the United States, never has played as pivotal a role in an election as it has this year, said Delegate Marvin E. Holmes Jr., a Democrat who greeted voters outside Evangel Cathedral.

“Blacks have true control of the outcome of this election,” said Mr. Holmes, who is black. “If we vote, we have a say in the outcome. If we don’t vote, we have a say in the outcome.”

Many voters mentioned the war in Iraq and education as significant issues, but most noted that the U.S. Senate race between Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a white Democrat, and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican and the first black elected to statewide office in Maryland, was a major draw.

“I’m disappointed people are getting on the [Steele] bandwagon requesting that we vote for him simply because he’s black,” Mr. Holmes said. “I thought we got away from that. I thought we got away from people dictating who wins an election based on skin color.”

Bowie High School student Robert Myles, 18, who voted in his first general election yesterday, also backed Mr. Cardin. “I didn’t trust Steele,” he said.

Still, Mr. Myles said he doesn’t believe in voting a straight party ticket. “I still voted for a few Republicans,” he said.

About a half-dozen Steele supporters campaigned outside the cathedral during lunch hour.

“Steele is a good man,”said Rita Simons, who lives in Chester on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. “I think if he loses, Prince George’s County loses.”

Melvin Dickerson, 17, is 10 months shy of voting age. But the Upper Marlboro resident spent Election Day outside the polling station handing out Democratic campaign literature.

“I’ll vote in the next election, but for now this is kind of a way of voting for more than one person, because I’m letting people know what the deal is,” he said. “So I think it’s worth it.”

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