Camping out for tickets to a rock concert, sporting event or movie is something Americans have done for years, but voting rarely inspires such dedication.
On Nov. 2, however, citizens showed up early to cast their votes. "There were people here at 5:30," said John Filippin, assistant precinct chief at Cunningham Park Elementary. The polls opened at 6 a.m.
Election officials at many Vienna precincts had turnout higher than they can remember. "It's tremendous," said Cathryn Thompson, precinct chief at the Vienna Community Center.
The line at the community center looked like a snake, switching back and forth in the auditorium before going out the door and down the hall into the lobby. And that was at the slower time, about 9:30 a.m.
Earlier in the day, Thompson said, voters were lined up out to the street. "Sometimes [in past elections] it gets out in the hall," Thompson said. "But not people lined up outside."
"I had a guy say, 'I've never seen anything like this, and I've been voting here for 20 years,'" said Lawrence King, precinct chief at Cunningham Park.
THE HIGH turnout and close contest brought with it teams of observers from both major parties. Democratic and Republican poll watchers sat by the tables and noted the names of voters as they checked in. "We're in there for a couple of reasons. The first is to make sure everybody's being honest," said Patrick Krason, Republican poll watcher at Madison High School.
The other is to help with get-out-the-vote efforts. Krason said that people who are known to be Republicans and have not voted by mid-afternoon will get a call to make sure they are planning to come. "We'll remind them of how close it is," he said.
Democrats had their own poll watchers, along with the Voting-Rights Legal Team. "There are about 800 of us volunteering across the commonwealth," said Suzanne Rogers, an attorney and member of the team. Attorneys were stationed at various polling places in order to help people who might be wrongly turned away. "Essentially, we're here to observe if people have problems," she said.
While people at some polling places reported waits of an hour, tempers remained fairly calm, and there were no major incidents reported. "In Vienna, we don't have fist fights," said Elizabeth High, assistant chief election officer at Madison.