Alexandrians awoke on a long anticipated Election Day to find lines snaking around the polls at virtually every precinct Tuesday. The first voters arrived as early as 5:15 a.m., indicating general anxiousness in a city that, by the end of the day, helped turn Virginia from reddish purple to a solid blue.
Despite reports that Virginia was the most unprepared state for the expected crowds, the citys ballots were by and large cast smoothly. Lines were lengthy from the start because, as precinct volunteer Mike Lane said, Everyone drank the Kool-Aid. Some voters reported waiting more than two hours, but lines dissipated by about 9 a.m., ending the rush and replacing it with a steady flow of voters throughout the day. The longest lines occurred at St. Martin Deporres Senior Center in the early morning.
Overall, I think the performance of this office and the officials in the precincts was extraordinary, said Alexandrias Registrar of Voters Tom Parkins. We moved voters through extremely fast faster than I or anyone here would have predicted.
The day looked glum, drizzling at times, but voters reveled in their newly magnified roles as Virginia electors. About 75 percent of the citys 93,199 active voters cast a ballot. Many greeted one another like it was a holiday, exchanging Happy Election Day salutations as if to be followed by secret Santa exchanges.
Its really time to kind of roll up your sleeves and get down to it, said Leah, a member of the military who stood in the wind and light rain holding John McCain signs proudly at the corner of one precinct. Thats what makes it worth it to us to stand out here in the rain. Leah said she received mixed reactions from passers by but stressed the importance of voting, no matter the candidate. Some honked in support of her candidate, but she said Ive had at least one person yell no chance and I yelled back Thanks for voting.
The only incident of note took place at the Cameron Station Community Center precinct. Because the registration tables were divided according to last name (as they were at all precincts), some lines were lopsidedly longer than others, angering a few outspoken voters. Pressured by some vocal and apparently zealous residents, voting officers decided to filter everyone through one line regardless of alphabetical order, resulting in even longer lines.
In response to some very angry voters, some election officers at Cameron Station made some choices that they probably wouldnt make if we did it again today, Parkins said Wednesday. They just work so very hard and were so committed and so conscientious, maybe in that case, a little too conscientious.
Other than this minor speed bump, the polls were largely uneventful. Although one dog, dubbed McCanine by volunteers at the Fire Station Headquarters precinct, was illegally wearing campaign paraphernalia. She was forced to stay behind the no campaigning line, 40 feet from the polling station and volunteers joked that she was not charged.
The local election board decided a while ago to allow voters to wear buttons, caps and shirts in support of their candidates but the state board ruled recently to not allow them inside the polling area. Prior to Election Day, almost 16,000 people cast absentee ballots from out of town or at the Office of Voter Registration and Elections where partisan paraphernalia was not a problem, Parkins said.
The relatively uneventful day at the polls (aside from the actual results) towered so palpably over the hype that some poll workers and voters seemed downright bored.
With the exception of the morning rush its been so dull, said Marianne Anderson, a precinct captain. There was nothing going on after that. But it was really boring because everybody got the word early. We have had a good day; good people, good volunteers, good voters everybodys been orderly, everythings been calm.
I dont think we got a report that a single voting machine failed [Tuesday], Parkins said. That would be extraordinary even in a small election where we just deploy a few machines in each precinct. Each precinct had at least six machines and most had about 10. Im frankly amazed at how the day went, Parkins said.
While Alexandrias day went smooth, some Virginia jurisdictions in the Tidewater region were not as lucky, with reports of seven-hour waits at some precincts. Alexandrias size is conducive to quick and accurate returns, especially compared to larger jurisdictions like Fairfax County. The citys quick returns ranked in the top half of all the Commonwealths districts, according to live Internet tracking by the New York Times.
Its a function of our size, Parkins said. Were just about the right size to manage election reporting. We have a very short ballot so it is not very much of a risk to take the initial unofficial results by telephone. Thats not practical in a town the size of Fairfax.
The election was not over Tuesday night. The Office of Voter Registration and Elections spent Wednesday doing their canvass, where the votes will be more carefully reviewed and the precincts will be evaluated for performance. Voters who cast provisional ballots also made their case to have their voices heard.
Im glad to have this one behind me although we still have some work to do, Parkins said. The rest of the day well be reviewing results of the precincts, evaluating some of the problems so we can improve next time.