Tradition and Mistrust Drive Baltimore’s In-Person Early Voters

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Aleishia Dobbins, 38, was happy to finally have her daughter old enough to stand next to her as she cast her vote this year. “The first time we took her my wife was pregnant. She was a baby the second go around. We made a point to show her the different ways to vote,” said Miller. “My wife did the paper ballot and I did the electronic ballot.”

By Alexis Taylor
Special to the AFRO

Even in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of Baltimoreans have cast ballots in the first three days of early voting for the 2020 presidential election. 

According to unofficial early voting data released by the Baltimore City Board of Elections (BOE), roughly 27,762 voters have already had their say on who should run the country, the city, courtroom and a host of other topics.

Latarsha Perry, like many voters this year, chose to vote ahead of the Nov. 3 Election Day because she was hesitant about voting through the mail or using a ballot drop-off box. 

“I have the mail-in ballot and I didn’t want to use it. I wanted to vote in person because now I know that it is done and it will count,” said the 47-year old Baltimore native.

Perry turned up to vote at Edmondson High School, one of the eight locations spread across Baltimore City for in-person voting.

“I thought it went smoothly,” she said upon exiting the building. Inside the gym of the building, election officials did indeed run a smooth operation. 

All poll workers wore masks and many wore gloves as they carefully guided voters through the process of casting a ballot. Others sanitized voting booths and common spaces or answered questions.

Kwame Rose gives baked ziti dinners from Terra Cafe to voters exiting Edmondson High School. The restaurant is one of several local establishments to partner with World Central Kitchen in their efforts to feed thousands of Americans during the pandemic. Rose said the initiative is now feeding roughly 400 voters a day, with 100 meals dispersed at each of the selected polling locations.

Three days into early voting, citizens across the city are able to cast a vote at an early voting center with little to no wait in line.

According to BOE, voters can also use one of 32 ballot drop-off boxes to leave a ballot. The ballot boxes are available 24-hours a day up until 8 pm on Election Day.  Voters must sign the oath on the back of the return envelope in order for their vote to count. 

Rodney Berry, 62, used a drop-off box to participate in the election that includes the race for mayor and issues like the expansion of gaming.

“There was controversy and I want to make sure my vote counts,” said the licensed physical therapy assistant.I decided to walk over to the school on Monday, but they said since I requested a mail-in ballot I had to return that. I filled it out today and said I will trust in the system.”

“I wanted to save time and it’s one less person standing in line,” Berry told the AFRO. “I’m not as skeptical as I was and I think it will be okay.”

Voters experienced little to no wait in line at multiple early voting centers throughout Baltimore. On average, the Oriole Park at Camden Yards has served 1,100 voters a day.

Berry said that while “Baltimore has its issues with crime,” it also has communities strong enough to solve the problem. 

“We’re the voice! We’re the people!,” he said. “We have to unify and tell- or make- our officials do what we want them to do. In certain pockets of Baltimore that is the way it’s done. They have strong community organizations and better policing, but that’s not city wide unfortunately.”

“We have to do it ourselves neighborhood by neighborhood. From better schools to better streets, infrastructure, and crime. Maybe an elected official can get that message out there and help the people organize.”

Outside of Cross Country at Northwestern Tyrone Miller, 59, also decided against mail-in voting. In less than 30 minutes he was able to vote in person.

“I wanted to make sure my vote went through. I wanted to be on the safe side,” he said. 

When asked about voting during the coronavirus pandemic, Miller said he felt safe and wants to encourage others to vote. “They had hand sanitizer inside and everything was spaced out.”

Like Miller, Aleishia Dobbins also voted at Cross Country.

“Traditionally, I have always voted in person,” said Miller. “If you plan for it, you can come in and spend the time to do it.”

During the pandemic, the 38-year-old said voting in person did cause concern, but it was a necessary risk.

“You worry that you might get sick, but we have been taking precautions. It’s like going to the grocery store. If you can’t do it in person- use another option.”

Miller was joined by her wife and 7-year old daughter, who said violence in schools and noise in her community are concerns. 

“We made a point to show her the different ways to vote,” said Miller. “My wife did the paper ballot and I did the electronic ballot.” 

Standing outside of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Lakeisha Alexander told the AFRO she also decided to vote in-person. 

“I didn’t know they had so many sites that were so close to home,” she said. “It took about 10 minutes because I had already reviewed the ballot. And looked up the candidates and what they’re trying to do.”

Other locations for in-person voting include the Southeast Anchor Library on Eastern Avenue, Mount Pleasant Church and Ministries, and the Liberty Heights Campus of Baltimore City Community College. 

In the first three days of early voting Morgan State University’s Hurt Gymnasium consistently hosted more than 1,650 voters a day, while New Era Academy has maintained an average of roughly 338 voters a day.