- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | Maryland voters turned out in large numbers Tuesday to approve a state constitutional amendment to legalize slot-machine gambling while Democratic efforts to replace a longtime Republican representive made for tight, bitterly fought contest on the Eastern Shore, according to early returns.

With 1 percent of 1,829 precincts reporting, 7,488 Marylanders (62 percent) voted for the slot-machine measure and 4,536 (38 percent) voted against it. In addition, Mr. Obama had won 10,823 votes (54 percent) and Republican presidential nominee John McCain had received 9,131 votes (45 percent).

Maryland voters turned out in large numbers, forcing state elections officials to open a call center and distribute additional voting machines across the state to deal with the turnout.

Slot-machine gambling has dominated state politics for the better part of the decade, moving from a routinely doomed bill in the General Assembly under former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, to a ballot measure drafted by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, to voters Tuesday.

Despite legislative tweaks, little has changed in the arguments about the machines: Supporters say slots revenue is needed to improving schooling for children in grades K through 12, and critics say gambling is immoral and a tax on the poor.

“Today, I’m asking for your support and trust in voting for Question 2,” Mr. O’Malley wrote in an e-mail to Marylanders, one of his few public appeals for slots during the campaign.

Polls were set to close at 8 p.m., but many expected voting in some of the state’s most active precincts to continue at least a few hours longer because state law allows everyone in line by 8 p.m. to cast a ballot. Election results were not immediately available.

The State Board of Elections, which had handled voter questions in past elections, called on more than 100 call-center staffers from InfoSpherix Inc. of Cumberland to handle a wave of inquiries that had topped 8,000 calls by Tuesday afternoon.

“We just wouldn’t have been able to keep up with that,” said Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator for the state board, which expected about 85 percent of registered voters to cast ballots.

Long lines and long waits marked early-morning voting in Maryland, but much of that had dropped off by about 10 a.m. Elections watchdogs in Maryland reported an orderly, trouble-free voting experience by most people across the state.

“There were long lines and heavy turnout,” said David Rocah, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which enlisted more than 60 volunteers to take phone calls and monitor polling stations Tuesday. “But in a democracy, that’s a good thing.”

Voters across Maryland on Tuesday sounded fairly settled on their decision to approve or reject slot machines.

“If you don’t have money to gamble, don’t gamble,”said Judy Robinson, 65, of Hyattsville, after voting for the measure. “If you do, have a good time and let the tax dollars accrue.”

The state’s Democratic leaders, who control the General Assembly and the governor’s office, are banking on slots to stave off future budget troubles and pay for commitments made during last year’s special session of the legislature.

Mr. Ehrlich, in his own last-minute appeal to voters, asked them to “send a powerful message to Annapolis” and vote against the slots plan.

The country’s economic troubles have hit the state hard, leaving lawmakers to deal with an unexpected billion-dollar shortfall in next year’s budget.

The economic troubles that have buoyed Democratic congressional campaigns across the country also appeared to help Democrat Frank M. Kratovil Jr.’s bid to win Maryland’s 1st Congressional District and replace Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a longtime incumbent Republican who lost a grueling primary battle in February.

The district, which covers the Eastern Shore and extends into the state’s Western Shore, has long been considered a safe seat for Republicans. But the national economic troubles, Mr. Gilchrest’s support of Mr. Kratovil and a strong cash infusion from national Democrats turned the race into an unexpected struggle for the Republican candidate, state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, who represents Baltimore and Harford counties.

Richard Davis, a Libertarian, was also in the race.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee delivered nearly $2 million to Mr. Kratovil. The conservative Club For Growth paid for $1.3 million in independent aid for Mr. Harris, as well as an additional $250,000 in direct contributions.

Voters in northeast Baltimore County, one of the state’s few Republican strongholds, said they voted for Mr. Harris mainly because he is a Republican.

“I hate people spending too much of my money,” Greg Johnston, 51, of Towson, said of congressional Democrats hoping to add Mr. Kratovil to their ranks.

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