At Early Polling Site, Man Not on the Ballot Looms Large

There was a steady stream of voters at an early polling site in Landover Tuesday. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

To reach the Wayne K. Curry Sports and Learning Center in Landover, one of the early voting sites in Prince George’s County, voters must steer their way up a curvy driveway lined with scores of candidate signs. Candidates for the U.S. Senate, governor, county executive, school board and other races are represented.

But it’s a politician whose name isn’t on the ballot who may be doing the most to pull voters to the polls.

Interviews with almost two dozen voters Tuesday in the largest majority-black jurisdiction in Maryland suggests that President Trump’s rhetoric and policies are motivating many people to cast ballots at their first opportunity.

On the sixth day of early voting, the parking lot outside the Curry Center, named for Prince George’s first African-American county executive, was jammed. Midday voters had to wait for someone to leave to find an empty space.

Inside, the line snaked down the hall and back and back again — a wait of between 20 and 45 minutes, voters reported.

Through Tuesday, 67,151 Prince Georgians had voted early — 11.59 percent of eligible voters. That’s just a hair below the 11.66 percent of eligible voters who had opted vote early statewide.

“The turnout is because of the type of government that we have, “ said Carl Talley. “Voting is the only thing we’ve got left.”

“It’s different than any government we’ve ever seen before — and I’m 74 years old.”

“I’ve never seen the times like they are now, and I’m from Richmond, Va., the capital of the Confederacy,” said voter Lawrence Branch. “I’m 63 and I’ve never seen the violent climate that we have right now.”

“I think the politics of the moment has been a determining factor” in drawing people to the polls, said Awilda Euill, appearing to choose her words carefully. “All of the unrest, all of the violence that’s happening, and one of the folks who could be a unifier right now but is not.”

“People seem to be trying to take us back,” she added. “And as an African-American woman, we’re not going back to the ‘50s.”

Sidney Davis, one of a dozen campaign volunteers manning the site, said, “People have been coming out in droves. People are inspired to do what they didn’t do in the 2016 election.”

Davis accused the president of “speaking without compassion, ripping folks apart. … So what can we do? We can vote.”

Prince George’s County, with its large population of African-American professionals, has been the jurisdiction that Democratic candidates for statewide office have long turned to for massive margins.

In theory, the Trump backlash could be an issue for Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., the Republican incumbent seeking a second term. But many voters in Landover said they see Hogan as being disconnected from the normal swirl of politics.

“He’s for doing the right thing,” said voter Mildred Goff.

“We’re seeing a positive change in Maryland,” said her husband, Samuel Goff, echoing the governor’s campaign slogan. “I think the party thing has gotten out of hand.”

What about former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous (D), who would be Maryland’s first African-American governor — and just the third in U.S. history?

“He’s a walk-up,” said Samuel Goff. “It’s like if I walked up and said, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.’ Most people have never heard of him.”

“Most people I talk to are voting for the person, not the party,” his wife added. “It’s not Democrat or Republican. It’s what do you do when you get in there.”

Davis, handing out literature for County Council candidate Calvin Hawkins (D) and others, said, “I think Hogan is a good man. He has a transparent personality. He’s been there. His record speaks for itself.”

“Ben doesn’t have a record — not here,” he added.  “I don’t think his record is that strong.”

Several voters said they were voting for Jealous, however.

A woman who wouldn’t give her name said of his TV spots, “I felt a connection with his ads. I just want something different.”

Branch expressed strong support for Jealous. “He brings a fresh, new, young face of entrepreneurship. He’ll help the community colleges. His new ideas would be fresh for a state like Maryland and for young people.”

Despite his support for the challenger, however, he praised Hogan for his willingness to stand up to the president.

“I do give him credit for speaking out. We need Republicans who have the cajones to say, ‘that’s wrong.’”

Davis, the campaign volunteer, couldn’t help but look ahead to the next statewide election, in 2022.

Asked about Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), who is running unopposed for county executive, Davis echoed the view of a growing number of insiders, calling her a rising star with a bright future.

“I think Angela Alsobrooks will be the next governor,” he said. “She’s a magnet to attract people to their greater good. She is a powerful instrument.”

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