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By Neal Earley
Presidential politics, a combative race for county executive and several contested local elections drove voter participation over the 50 percent mark this year in Montgomery County.
Despite foul weather, the local Board of Elections recorded 358,879 ballots cast.
This is of 655,415 registered voters for a 54.76 percent voter turnout in Montgomery County.
Enthusiasm has been high on Election Day across Montgomery County as voters waited in long lines, and election officials reported high voter turnout Tuesday.
For Montgomery County voters, interest in a plethora of candidates and local issues drove them to the polls. For some, divisive national politics drove them to the polls; for others, it was hotly-contested local races that interested them the most.
John Hoeveler, 38, said he came to Montgomery Village Middle School Tuesday morning to cast a protest vote against Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who is running for reelection.
“I like Larry Hogan but I didn’t vote for him, because he’s a Republican,” Hoeveler said.
While President Donald J. Trump may have not been on the ballot Tuesday, something both Trump and his opponents can agree on is that metaphorically, he is. President Trump and Democrats across the country have said that Tuesday’s election is a referendum on his presidency.
For Amy Klemetson, who also voted at Montgomery Village Middle School, said her vote was exactly that — a message to the president that her vote was “blocking his agenda and his division and his divisive rhetoric.”
While some focused on national politics, many had their eyes turned toward local races, which many believe have the most effect on voters and are more closely contested.
“Local elections are more important,” said Vilna Bonilla-Kenny, a Bethesda resident, who was canvassing for Board of Election at-large candidate Karla Silvestre.
Grant Callery, an independent voter from Bethesda, expressed concern primarily about local and state races, filling his ballot with votes for Republican, Democratic and independent candidates.
“I think it’s a good thing to have a balance between Republicans and Democrats,” said Callery who voted for Hogan and independent Montgomery County Executive candidate Nancy Floreen. “It’s hard to get much of a balance in Montgomery County.”
For voters across the County, turnout varied.
At Bethesda Elementary School, there were long lines in the morning, with a wait of about 45 minutes to an hour, according to Chief Election Judge Karen L. Williams.
Just down the street, about a five-minute walk away at the Connie Morella Library, there were no lines for people to vote; however, a posted sign told people to feed the parking meters, as parking enforcement laws were still active on Election Day – something that Montgomery County Public Information Officer Lorraine Driscoll denied.
While the voter turnout numbers will not be posted until after the polls close, early-voting turnout has risen considerably since the last midterm. In the eight-day early-voting period, 113,315 people voted in the midterms. That number is up from the last midterm election in 2014, when 35,444 people voted early in Montgomery County.
At Rockville High School, turnout was high – with 699 people who voted as of 2 p.m.
“It’s been good,” said Chief Judge Melissa Golladay. “From 7 to 10 [a.m.], we had a line the entire time, longer than I remember in recent history.”
Election judges said it was hard to gauge voter turnout, as wait times differed from place to place. In addition, election judges were reticent to attribute wait times to high voter turnout, saying the limited number of scanners – just two in many places – slowed down the process and could have been a cause of long lines rather than increased number of voters.
“That scanner line has been, what sort of holds us up a little bit,” Williams said.
As of 8:45 a.m., 168 people had voted at Watkins Mill Elementary School, Chief Election Judge Kathy Gugulis said. Around 7 a.m., when the polls opened, there were several people waiting to vote, resulting in a line of people that snaked around the polling room, she said.
At Montgomery Village Middle School, 171 people had voted between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., according to one of the chief election judges. Three hours later, at 12 p.m., 395 people had voted, of 2,754 registered voters in the precinct.
At Twinbrook Community Recreation Center, things were mostly quiet, with only 120 people who had voted as of 1:40 p.m. In much of Rockville, voter turnout remained relatively steady, with 710 people who had voted at Richard Montgomery High School as of 3:30 p.m.
In Potomac, the morning turnout was higher than much of the County, with 431 people who voted at Seven Locks Elementary, 438 people at Bells Mill Elementary, and 572 people who voted at Churchill High School as of 11 a.m.
Kathleen Stubbs, Suzanne Pollak and Harry Lichtman contributed to this story.
This story will be updated.