- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | Gambling opponents rallied Monday to defeat an effort to legalize slot machines, while supporters hoped Election Day would bring jackpots and badly needed revenue for the state.

Approval of the referendum question Tuesday on whether the state should allow slot machines would mark the end of years of contentious debate about gambling expansion.

Voters also will decide whether they want Maryland to join more than 30 other states with early voting.

Turnout is expected to be high, about 85 percent overall and as high as 90 percent in some parts of the state, Maryland elections officials said. The state has increased the number of voting machines to accommodate the crowds. In 2006, Maryland used about 16,000. This election, roughly 19,000 will be used.

“We’re ready to go,” said Linda Lamone, administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections.

The National Weather Service called for mostly light rain in the region, with less of a chance in Western Maryland. On the Eastern Shore, forecasts called for a cloudy morning with some sun in the afternoon and a chance of rain later in the day.

In addition to preparing for voters Tuesday, local elections officials across the state worked to process absentee ballots. As of Sunday, 132,539 Democratic voters had applied for absentee ballots, compared with 61,498 requested by Republicans.

State elections officials emphasized the importance of voters casting their ballots in correct precincts, because of rules tightened after the state’s highest court struck down a previous early-voting law as unconstitutional.

The slots question, which has spanned Democratic and Republican administrations in Maryland, has consumed huge amounts of energy in state government over the years, prompting Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, to put the issue to voters.

If residents vote in favor of the referendum, as many as 15,000 slot machines would be allowed in five locations, including two horse-racing tracks, in Laurel and near Ocean City.

Supporters say the hundreds of millions of dollars the state stands to gain are crucial amid the nation’s financial crisis and to keep the state’s horse-racing industry competitive. Mr. O’Malley, who campaigned Monday in Pennsylvania for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, successfully pushed last year to put the matter on the ballot to address a budget shortfall that has since been aggravated by the nation’s financial crisis.

A pro-slots group called For Maryland, For Our Future planned to spread supporters across the state on Election Day to hold signs emphasizing that about half of the proceeds would be set aside for education, said group spokesman Steve Kearney.

The group, which has held a huge fundraising advantage over opponents, owing largely to donations from gambling interests, ran television and radio advertisements in the Baltimore and Washington areas.

Slots critics have criticized state leaders for a plan they say would subsidize gambling companies at the expense of the poor.

In Maryland’s eight congressional districts, the race between state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican, and Queen Anne’s State’s Attorney Frank M. Kratovil Jr., a Democrat, on the Eastern Shore is the marquee showdown. The vigorously contested and expensive race appears to be up for grabs, after Mr. Kratovil won the endorsement of Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican and 18-year incumbent who lost the February primary to Mr. Harris. Democrats have slightly more registered voters in the district than Republicans, but it has largely voted Republican for nearly two decades.

Democrats, hoping a down year for Republicans could result in a clean sweep, also were cheering for a victory in the 6th Congressional District, the only other Republican-held seat in Maryland. But it would take a big upset in the heavily Republican district for Democrat Jennifer Dougherty, a former mayor of Frederick, to oust Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican and eight-term incumbent.

The six Democrats in Maryland’s other congressional districts appeared set to cruise to re-election.

Rep. Donna Edwards, Maryland’s first black woman elected to Congress, was on track to win her first full term, after easily defeating Republican Peter James in a special election in June to replace then-Rep. Albert R. Wynn, who lost to Mrs. Edwards in the primary. Mr. James is the Republican candidate again in the heavily Democratic district, which includes Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

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