On Nov. 6, area residents took to the polls to exercise their civil right and duty to vote for the president of the United States and other elected officials, as well as a few hotly contested ballot questions and propositions. The air outside was bitterly cold, similar to the atmosphere of the two years of campaigning in a nation of deeply divided Democrats and Republicans. But on this day, like some early Christmas miracle, Americans from all walks of life patiently waited in line to vote at the polls, chatting happily about everything but politics.
At Rachel Carson Elementary School (RCES), a polling place for many in the Kentlands area, a handful of campaigners stood outside, politely offering sample ballots to passing adults and fun-size candy bars to their children. Inside, only a small line formed at the registration tables.
“I was told it was busier earlier,” said Kentlands resident Judith Bowls as she exited the school. “I guess I came at a lull!”
She noted she couldn’t remember a long line in any of the recent elections. “I’ve never had to really wait [a long time]. Maybe years ago.”
When asked about their thoughts in this election, many voters bemoaned the number of political advertisements, as well as their antagonistic tone.
“[They were] just distasteful,” said Brendan Emerson. “There were just too many negative campaign ads. They didn’t offer solutions to [the nation’s] problems, or explain [each candidates’s] own record.”
Emerson, a Kentlands resident and stay-at-home dad, said he always votes mid-morning to avoid the rush.
Despite his view on the way candidates ran their campaigns, Emerson and many others at RCES were in a cheery mood. “I think people always just get excited about exercising their vote,” he said. “They’re proud.”
Al Wurglitz stood outside the school, offering his opinion on question seven — but only to those who actually sought to engage him in conversation. He said he voted when the polls opened and that his vote for question seven, which proposed the expansion of gambling in Maryland, was against the motion.
“I’ve talked to so many people who have family members with a gambling problem,” Wurglitz said. “Why should we invite the casinos to our doorsteps?”
Gloria Seelman, who stood next to Wurglitz with a stack of sample ballots, cordially argued with him on and off. “I am an educator,” she said, “but mainly I go with it to keep the money here in Maryland. I like the idea that it’s going to make some good, blue-collar jobs.”
Despite his personal concern over the gambling expansion and proposed Prince George’s County casino, Wurglitz was in good spirits.
“A lot of people did early voting. I think the storm was a concern. [But mostly] people wanted to go when they wouldn’t miss work,” he said. “There was a line three hours long in Germantown … happiest line I’ve ever been in! [There is] no animosity waiting in line. We are all here for the same reason.”
An hour later, the wait at Lakelands Park Middle School (LPMS) was much longer, but the temperament of the crowd was similarly upbeat. Although the line of voters ran to the back of the building and then snaked halfway back toward the front, there was nothing but smiles and quiet chitchat amongst friends and strangers.
Lakelands residents Michael and Janice Stevens noted that, despite the crowd, they only stood in line for about 15 – 20 minutes. “[The poll volunteers] are very organized,” said Janice.
The couple also added that they thought the electronic voting helped everything run smoothly. “And I felt like my vote was counted,” said Janice, as her husband nodded in agreement. “I think the electronic system lends itself less to any hanky panky.”
When asked what they thought of the election as a whole, the Stevens responded that it felt much too long, and “the negativity of the ads made [them] difficult to tolerate.”
Billy Castle, who also voted at LPMS, agreed that this election was certainly very negative, but he said it didn’t seem much worse than the past several presidential elections. “I’m afraid it’s become the nature of the beast,” said Castle.
He was, however, feeling positive on Election Day and was undaunted by the line. “I don’t think it could have gone any smother,” he said. “I was in and out in 25 minutes.”
Near the entrance of the middle school, local Anna Goodman stood handing out leaflets and sample ballots. “It’s actually been rather quiet [here] — not crazy,” said Goodman. “People have been very upbeat.”
Marilyn O’Brien, who was finishing her breakfast while sitting at a campaign table, agreed. “I think it’s because it’s such an American tradition,” she said, referring to the reason people seemed happy and excited. “[It’s] such a unique experience!”
Goodman said she and others she had spoken with felt a great sense of relief that the election was coming to a close. She said the constant “robo” calls during the campaign were particularly annoying.
Both she and O’Brien admitted, though, that the calls were actually pretty funny.
Goodman laughed. “My husband said the other day, ‘Bill Clinton called, but I told him you were napping.’”