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Lines, Lines, Lines

Reporter Jerry Markon learns this afternoon from the Virginia State Board of Elections that voter turnout is heavy statewide and is expected to wind up being about 30 to 40 percent of registered voters -- in the range of what the board had projected.
"People are interested and excited about this presidential primary, and they definitely want their voices heard,'' elections board spokeswoman Susan Pollard said.
She said this year's projected turnout can't be compared to other recent Virginia presidential primaries because the state hasn't had one with both parties on the ballot for nearly two decades. In 2004, Democrats held a presidential primary, but Republicans didn't, while in 2000 there was only a Republican primary.
The last presidential primary to feature both parties was in 1988, the elections board said. That year, Democratic turnout was 14.3 percent, while Republican turnout was 8.9 percent.
Pollard said there are reports of long lines and shortages of poll workers at some polling places, but she said they weren't concentrated in any particular area of the state. She said there are few reported glitches, other than eight polling places that had to be moved to alternate locations because of power outages due to high winds. None were in Northern Virginia.

Post reporters at several Northern Virginia polling stations found voting went relatively smoothly this morning, with turnout apparently brisk.

But there also was some disgruntlement.

Arlington County officials were fielding complaints from irate voters today.

"We're getting people jumping up and down who are very angry at us and don't think we know what we're doing,'' said Allen Harrison, chairman of the Arlington County Electoral Board.

Jonathan Adkins, for example, encountered a two-hour wait when he tried to vote at 10 a.m. at St. George's Episcopal Church in the Virginia Square neighborhood. He returned at 11:30 -- same problem. So Adkins, who has the flu, went home and said he wouldn't be able to vote.

He said the line moved slowly because there was only one table of poll workers checking voters in. In past elections, he said, there had been several tables.

"I was extremely frustrated to say the least,'' said Adkins, who called the county to complain. "It's very disheartening. I expect to wait awhile, but I don't expect chaos.''

Reporter Kirstin Downey also heard complaints in Arlington. She found some voters stood in line at St. George's up to two hours to vote, and some reportedly left because they could no longer stay. Some said they came, waited, gave up and and returned later.
"It's never been this busy in my memory," said John Mazzella, 39, who stood waiting in a line of about 60 people by midday.
"I think it's impressive that people have been waiting this long," said Jeffrey Schub, 22, an Obama supporter. "Everybody wants to be part of it."

Harrison said staffing is low because it's increasingly hard to find people willing to be poll workers, a job that pays $130 for the day. He said the county advertised extensively through local service clubs and on the Internet but was only able to recruit and train about 500 poll workers county-wide. "We could easily use another hundred without batting an eye, maybe even more than that.''

Harrison said the county also failed to anticipate that Virginia's primary would be so important and attract such high turnout because many election observers had thought the Democratic and Republican races would be wrapped up after the recent Super Tuesday primaries. "According to things I read, there was a question of whether it would all be decided by today,'' he said.

The county will "rethink" its approach for the November elections, Harrison added. "I don't know where we can get more people, but we are constantly after them,'' he said. "We'll be jumping up and down trying to get people who can work the polls.''

Other Post readers called and wrote about problems they perceived.

Martita Marx, 64, of McLean, complained about the decision of Fairfax County officials to keep schools open on election day (in contrast to Maryland schools, which were closed). She said the parking lot at Langley High School was jammed.

"You cannot find a place to park," she said. "How many people are going to turn around and leave and not vote? This is so ridiculous."

Here's a sampling of preliminary voter turnout figures from the state board:
Bristol: 10% of registered voters had turned out as of 11:00 a.m.
Middlesex County: 14% turnout as of 11:30 a.m.
Arlington County: 18% turnout as of 11:00 a.m.
Danville: 10% turnout as of 11:00 a.m.
New Kent County: 12% turnout as of 11:15 a.m.
Northampton County: A total of 616 voters had turned out as of 12:00 p.m.
King William County: 10.5% turnout as of 11:30 a.m.
Tazewell County: 7% turnout as of 11:45 a.m.
Green County: 982 voters had turned out as of 11:45 a.m.
Campbell County: 10% turnout as of 12:00 noon

The elections board said it received over 1,100 calls this morning from voters inquiring about where to vote and where to register.

In addition, eight precincts in three southwestern Virginia localities had to establish alternate polling places yesterday due to power outages resulting from high winds-- Botetourt County (1), Roanoke City (4), and Roanoke County (3).

By Washington Post editors  |  February 12, 2008; 3:18 PM ET
Categories:  Election 2008/President  
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