Voters wait in a massive snaking line that took a little over an hour to vote… (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON…)
The lines of voters at a polling station in Prince William County were so long Tuesday afternoon that Democratic operatives rushed to urge people waiting, some up to four hours, to hold on a little longer to cast their ballot.
The excruciatingly slow-moving lines at the River Oaks precinct in Potomac Middle School was one of the worst in the region on an Election Day that has seen many Washington area polling places so inundated with voters that people spent hours inching forward.
In battleground Virginia, the race for president and the highly watched U.S. Senate contest drew scores eager to make their voice heard.
As in many swing states, the most recent polls had President Barack Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney running neck-and-neck in Virginia, where the polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Also too close to call: the Senate race between Democrat Timothy M. Kaine and Republican George Allen to succeed retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D).
The contest between the two former governors has been hard-driven across the state, and polls predict a tight race. Polls have shown the race tied but breaking for Kaine in recent weeks. About $30 million from GOP groups helped Allen’s campaign, making the race one of the nation’s most expensive this year. The contest has garnered national attention because of its potential to help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.
Although voters waited patiently in most polling locations, some voters in Fairfax County, for example, were observed doing a U-turn rather than brave hours standing outside in the November chill.
The River Oaks precinct is in the town of Dumfries on the eastern edge of Prince William County. It had six voting machines for the 5,100 voters registered in an area that is heavily minority and Democratic-leaning.
Democratic party officials on the scene accused the Republican-led elections board, which is appointed by the Prince William Circuit Court, of failing to assign enough workers and voting machines.
Richard Hendrix, one of the Republican appointees on the three-member board, said it was a matter of limited resources.
“We distribute them evenly and based on the size of the precinct and expected turnout,” he said. “We’re doing our best to make sure the elections are run as smoothly as possible in every precinct in the county.”
Rosa Gutierrez,33, stepped out before voting — she said her 18-year-old son was holding her spot in line as she ran out to a nearby McDonald’s restaurant after waiting for three hours. Gutierrez said she had been awake since 2:30 a.m., when she arose to go to her job as a manager at a Starbucks. “He’s voting for the first time, so I have to be an example,” she said of her son.
Gaston Gianni, the precinct chief, said that poll workers had requested more voting machines, but none was available.
Harry W. Wiggins, the chairman of the local Democratic Committee, said that while Obama campaign lawyers had been notified, there was little they could do as the end of Election Day drew near.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), whose district includes the middle school, was at the school, joined other party officials encouraging people to stay.
But several voters said they had seen few people give up their place in line and depart.
Imran Saeed, 41, plopped his 4-year-old daughter onto a metal folding chair. She was too fatigued to stand, he said, and Saeed had about 15 minutes left to wait before he could vote.
“She wants to go home,” he said of his daughter, Duria. Saeed, who owns a handyman repair business, said he would cancel his night appointments if he had to.
“My goal is to vote,” he said.
Around the state, there also were some isolated reports of confusion about the new voter identification requirements in Virginia.
Some poll workers in Northern Virginia apparently did not realize that the new law that does not require photo identification, making it more flexible than voter-ID laws passed in many other Republican-controlled states. The new law greatly expanded the types of identification accepted at the polls, including utility bills, paychecks or bank statements.
Nevertheless, Melinda Schweihs, an Alexandria voter, said a poll worker turned down her government-issued voter card and incorrectly asked her to provide photo identification. Schweihs happened to have a photo ID with her and was able to vote. But she said in an e-mail that she was distressed for other voters.
“How many people are they demanding this of, and turning away?” she wrote.
Alexandria’s elections chief Tom Parkins said that such complaints were rare early Tuesday and that Schweihs’ voter card should have been “gold.” Poll workers should know from training that photo identification is not required, but he said, “I can’t say that out of several hundred people trained that somebody might not have gotten the message.”