- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | Maryland elections officials called on more than 100 call center staffers to handle voter questions, as voters swamped polling places on Tuesday.

The State Board of Elections, which had handled calls in past elections, said InfoSpherix of Cumberland, had handled more than 8,000 inquiries as of Tuesday afternoon.

“We just wouldn’t have been able to keep up with that,” said Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator for the state board, which expects 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., leaving elections officials across the state awaiting the evening rush.

Despite the long lines in some, elections watchdogs in Maryland said “all in all, it was a smooth day.”

“There were long lines and heavy turnout,” said David Rocah, a staff attorney with the ACLU 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.”

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 for this story.

By the end of the day, Maryland voters were expected to have closed two enduring chapters in state politics — legalizing slot machines and replacing long-time Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest — issues that seemed unlikely last year to dominate the state’s 2008 elections.

Voters also decided whether to join 30 other states in approving early voting in future elections.

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 on Tuesday.

Despite the legislaive finagling, little changed in the arguments about the machines: Supporters say slots revenue is need 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.

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 Demcorat Frank M. Kratovil Jr.’s bid to win Maryland’s 1st Congressional District and replace Mr. Gilchrist, a Republican.

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 funneled nearly $2 million in support of Mr. Kratovil. The conservative Club For Growth paid for $1.3 million in independent aid for Mr. Harris, as well as another $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.

Maryland also has seven other U.S. House races.

In the 2nd District, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat, faced challenges from Richard Matthews, a Republican, and Lorenzo Gaztanaga, a Libertarian.

In the 3rd District, Rep. John Sarbanes, a Democrat, vied with Thomas E. “Pinkston” Harris, a Republican, and Sebastian Sassi, a Libertarian.

In the 4th District, Rep. Donna Edwards, a Democrat, contended with Peter James, a Republican, and Thibeaux Lincecum, a Libertarian.

In the 5th District, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat, competed with Collins Bailey, a Republican, and Darlene Nichols, a Libertarian.

In the 6th District. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican, faced off against Jennifer Dougherty, a Democrat, and Gary W. Hoover Sr., a Libertarian.

In the 7th District, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat, fought off challenges from Michael Hargadon, a Republican, and Ronald Owens-Bey, a Libertarian.

In the 8th District, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, was being challenged by Steve Hudson, a Republican; Ian Thomas, a Libertarian; and Gordon Clark of the Green Party.

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