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Va., Md., D.C.: Ready To Count (More Pizza, Please)

Just back from a tour of polling places in Virginia, Maryland and the District, and the turnout numbers are quite remarkable in many places. When 75 percent of your registered voters have already turned up by 1 p.m., something unusual is happening. As an elections chief at a polling place in Falls Church put it to me, "I can't have an evening rush because there aren't enough people left to form one."

So here's the plan for tonight: I'll be with you on the chat here on the big web site every hour from 7 p.m. Eastern time on through the night, and depending on available stats and traffic, we'll keep talking and checking on returns for the first 30-40 minutes of each hour. Then I'll transfer over to the video set to join our team of reporters and analysts covering all races for the latter part of each hour.

How much bigger than usual is the turnout? Here are some snapshots from polling places I visited today:

In Silver Spring, at Rolling Terrace Elementary School, well more than a third of those registered had already cast ballots by 10 a.m. By 2 p.m., the total was well over half of those registered.

In the District, at one polling place in upper Northwest, more than five times as many people had voted by 11 a.m. today as had at the same time in this February's primary.

But the surging turnout is not universal. I stopped by a McLean precinct where the vote is ordinarily strongly Republican and the elections chief there said the pace of voting was no different from four years ago at the same time.

One unusual aspect of today's voting: Almost everywhere I've been, the numbers have been heavily weighted to early morning voting. The prospect of long queues and rumors about potentially being boxed out if you vote late in the day apparently prompted a great many people to vote early (but not, presumably, often.) At Cooper Middle School in Langley, for example, chief elections officer John Walsh said that 1,850 of the 2,400 voters registered in his precinct had already cast ballots by 3 p.m., and most of those did so in the early morning hours. (Indeed, by mid-afternoon, the polls there were empty--you could waltz right up to a machine, no wait whatsoever.)

Tonight's a big night for news organizations--a chance to stretch out and try new tools for new media and what may feel like a last blast for some old media operations that are trying to strut their stuff in the midst of severe economic stress. How severe? Check out this memo that went out to reporters and editors at the Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer regarding the food supplies for those working Election Night:

From: Susan SpringĀ
Date: November 3, 2008 11:46:07 AM EST
To: [Raleigh News & Observer staff]
Subject: Pizza etiquette

I want to remind you that pizza will be provided tomorrow night ONLY for
those working on elections. Please be polite. If you are working elections, you may have up to TWO slices. Thank you in advance for being considerate.

Susan Spring
Director of Newsroom Operations
The News & Observer

Luckily for the hard-working folks at the N&O, after that memo was forwarded to every journalist on the face of the planet, the bosses there rescinded the order. Hungry reporters may have that third slice.

Nothing left but the counting now....

By Marc Fisher |  November 4, 2008; 5:24 PM ET
Previous: Why We Vote--And Why We Don't | Next: Voters Answer The 10 Questions: 1. Virginia's GOP

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