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Virginians Voting in Record Numbers as Lines Dwindle Midday

While it's not much of a surprise that voter turnout is looking to set records, the rain and long lines haven't been a deterrant across Virginia today. According to the state's top election official, close to 50 percent of eligible Virginians had already voted as of 10 a.m.

That total includes the 500,000 absentee ballots, which make up about 10 percent of all eligible votes. Registrars around the state were reporting massive numbers in the early hours of voting, with 30 percent to 40 percent of some precincts' voters going to the polls shortly after they opened this morning.

Lines of several hundred people -- and in one case as many as 1,000 people -- have dwindled midday to lines of less than 15 minutes or better. Election officials urged voters to vote before 4 p.m., when lines are expected to grow again as people get off of work.

"All I want to tell Virginians, if you haven't voted, now is a good time, before 4 p.m.," said Nancy Rodrigues, secretary of the State Board of Elections.

Amid election watcher reports of irregularities and problems, Rodrigues said that her office is tracking "numerous reports around the state" but told reporters at an afternoon news conference that "the reality is we have not seen a pattern of widespread problems."

Those problems have centered on optical scanners being unable to read wet ballots and some localities experiencing problems with electronic voting machines. But Rodrigues said the machines have, for the most part, been running "very, very smoothly" and that isolated problems have been solved with paper ballots. She said, without hesitation, that there has not been a single precinct that has run out of paper ballots.

The optical scanners are in about 20 percent of Virginia's 2,349 precincts, and in places where water became an issue, elections officials were told to securely store the ballots and to let them dry. Those ballots will be counted at the end of the day.

There also have been some confirmed reports of what board officials call "voter suppression" in Richmond City, Fauquier County and Fairfax County. Those largely were reports about having overzealous campaign volunteers accosting voters outside polling places, the playing of a loud Rush Limbaugh broadcast, and a sheriff's deputy speaking to a campaign worker -- a relative -- very close to a polling site, something a few voters reported as appearing inappropriate.

Rodrigues said her office has also been forced to squash a lot of rumors that later proved incorrect.

By Josh White  |  November 4, 2008; 1:52 PM ET
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