- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008


It was a case of hurry up and wait in the Washington area Tuesday, as those who hustled to the polls early found long lines, while afternoon voters found few delays.

“I was in and out in 10 minutes. I thought there would be a line because it’s such a historic election. Normally I wouldn’t have gotten here so early, and I even walked here because I was worried about parking,” said Mike Opachko of Vienna, after voting at Cunningham Park Elementary School.

Obama poll worker Jim Williams, also of Vienna, said, “I heard stories of 300 people lining up at 3:30 a.m. in Occoquan. [Here at the elementary school], there was about an hour-and-a-half wait this morning.”

A McCain volunteer at Fred M. Lynn Middle School in Woodbridge was discouraged about the lack of interest in his candidate in what he called a largely Democratic area, but also reported long voting lines in the morning.

“Only about two out of every 10 voters are taking the Republican sample ballots,” said Mike Griffith. “When I got here at 5:40 a.m., the line was around the corner, and stayed long until 7:30.”

A light but steady rain began to fall in the region by the late morning, which may have contributed to the smaller vote turnout in the afternoon and evening.

Meanwhile, absentee ballots have been the focus of controversy in many jurisdictions this year, and the District of Columbia Board of Elections scrambled to handle complaints Tuesday.

Felicia Sullivan, 31, filed a complaint because her grandmother hadn’t received an absentee ballot.

“I took time off of work to come here and figure it out. How many people can get out to make sure they get their vote? My grandmother is 84, she’s been voting since 1924, this might be her last election. This is the nation’s capital, what can you expect from other cities if we can’t even do things right? It’s totally bogus,” Ms. Sullivan said.

Elections board spokesman Dan Murphy said, “We are doing whatever we can. People can get a ballot by either e-mail or fax, and then fax the ballot back.”

Nelson Rimensnyder, the Republican candidate for D.C. Shadow U.S. Senator, said his son in Iraq did not get a local ballot, only a federal ballot.

“We are trying to e-mail [the son] a ballot and hope that he can fax it back,” Mr. Murphy said.

“In some cases people have gotten their ballots after they sent in a complaint. This is a big election, and some people are just getting too excited,” he said.

“So far, over 12,000 [District residents] have voted via absentee ballots,” Mr. Murphy said. “A typical year is 5,000. It’s a good thing. We haven’t had any major issues of any kind so far.”

Despite reports of malfunctioning voting machines and polling places opening late, the Virginia State Board of Elections said at a briefing there were “no widespread problems,” and blamed human error and the rain for those snags that did occur.

Officials said voters with hands and clothes dampened by rain have caused some difficulties with optical scanning machines at some precincts.

Paper ballots are being used at the Godwin Math and Science Center in Henrico County because of a machine issue, and one wrong machine was delievered to Walnut Hill Elementary School in Petersburg. The board also said only three out of 2,349 Virginia precincts opened late this morning, not including central absentee precincts.

Early morning waits were also reported in Maryland.

The line at the Mary Harris-Mother Jones Elementary School, in Adelphi, was roughly 120 people about 90 minutes after the polls opened at 7 a.m.

Among the elderly, college students and parents with children were Robert and Sandra Chambers, both 60, of Adelphi.

They voted for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama but split on the key Maryland issue of whether to legalize slot-machine gambling to generate state revenue.

“I’m really uncomfortable with slots,” said Mrs. Chambers, a retired accountant. “I need a guarantee it’s for the schools. We are doing pretty good in our schools without them. We can reduce the salary of [the public schools] chief executive officer to get more funding.”

Mr. Chambers, a retired police detective, voted in favor of slots, saying “I hope they will do exactly what they say they will do. We need to keep that money in the state.”

A Prince George’s County police officer was shot early this morning outside Oaklands Elementary School, a polling place in Laurel. The incident, a purported attempted robbery, occurred at about 2:15 a.m. and resulted in a minor braze wound to the officer’s head.

However, police allowed the polls to open, said Linda Lamone, the state’s elections administrator.

Long lines and long waits also were reported in Virginia, this year a battleground state in the race between Mr. Obama and Republican candidate Sen. John McCain.

However, some Northern Virginia residents cast their votes within minutes of arriving at polling places.

“I was in and out in 10 minute,” said Mike Opachko, Vienna, who voted at Cunningham Park Middle School. “I though the line would be longer because this is such an historic election.” In the District, the lines were long and the waits were often about 50 minutes. Some voters at the Christ Episcopal Church, in Georgetown, arrived at 5 a.m. for the polls to open two hours later.

Im voting for John McCain,” Northwest resident Ann Rosenau said. Obama is appealing, but I agree with Mccain on the issues.



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