As Marylanders get their first opportunity to cast ballots in early voting in the hotly contested presidential election between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump today, elections officials are bracing for a record turnout.
More than 430,500 Marylanders took advantage of early voting in 2012, the first presidential election in which it was offered. This general election contest is expected to draw more.
"The pattern that we've seen is an increase in early voting for every election cycle," said Nikki Baines Charlson, deputy administrator at the Maryland State Board of Elections.
Early voters in the 2012 contest between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney accounted for nearly 16 percent of the 2.7 million ballots cast. This year, that proportion is expected to grow.
"I think you're going to see very, very high turnout for early voting," said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College of Maryland. "I want to vote just because I want to put this election in my rearview mirror as quickly as possible."
Early voting runs from today through Thursday, Nov. 3, at polling locations around the state. The polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For the first time, the state this year is allowing same-day voter registration during early voting. To register to vote, Marylanders must bring a document that proves that they live in the state.
Same-day registration is not available on Election Day, Nov. 8.
Nearly 2,000 people registered to vote during early voting in April. Nearly 1,500 registered as Democrats.
Officials are opening six early-voting locations in Baltimore, nine in Baltimore County, five in Anne Arundel County, four in Harford County, three in Howard County and one in Carroll County.
More than 257,000 Marylanders voted early in the April primary — a state record for a primary election.
About 40,000 people voted early in each of the large counties of Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's. The highest early-voting turnout was in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore, where 14 percent of eligible voters chose to cast ballots before Election Day.
Armstead B.C. Jones Sr., Baltimore's elections director, said he doesn't see widespread enthusiasm for any candidate in the city but expects early voters to come out in good numbers.
"The first few days we're going to see a rush," Jones said. "You always have those diehard folks that get out there. We're ready for them."
The city suffered several problems during the primary election — including election judges who didn't show up for work — but Jones said officials were ready for this week. He said he has enough staff in place.
"We're not recruiting any more judges," he said.
The high turnout of the April primary was fueled in part by the competitive nature of several races: Clinton faced opponent Bernie Sanders, and Trump faced Ted Cruz and John Kasich. There were also high-money battles in the House and Senate, for Baltimore mayor and many City Council seats.
Beyond the presidential election, the ballot features the battle between Democrat Chris Van Hollen, Republican Kathy Szeliga and Green Party nominee Margaret Flowers for a rare open Senate seat, and contests for each of Maryland's eight House seats.
The Baltimore mayoral election pits Democrat Catherine E. Pugh, Republican Alan Walden, and Green Party candidate Joshua Harris. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon, a Democrat, is waging a write-in campaign.
While officials are bracing for strong early voting, Eberly said he's not so sure turnout through Election Day will be up.
"We have the two least popular [presidential] nominees ever in the modern era," Eberly said. "That typically means lower turnout. On the flip side, we have more people paying attention to the race than normal. That usually leads to higher turnout."
In Maryland, there are 2.1 million registered Democrats, 1 million Republicans, and 675,000 unaffiliated voters. There also are about 19,000 registered Libertarians, 9,000 Greens and 32,000 people registered with other third parties.
•Early voting takes place from today through Nov. 3. Polls are open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.
•There are 67 early-voting locations in Maryland, including six in Baltimore, nine in Baltimore County, five in Anne Arundel County, four in Harford County, three in Howard County and one in Carroll County. To find your nearest early-voting location, visit the state board of elections website.
•Same-day voter registration is allowed during early voting. To register, a voter must bring a document that proves he or she lives in the state. This document can be a driver's license, ID card, paycheck, bank statement, utility bill or other government document.
•Same-day registration will not be available on Election Day, Nov. 8.