Americans usually export election monitors, but this year foreign groups are keeping an eye on our polls. "What we've seen is OK," said Alexander Striganov, an official with the Russian Embassy.
Striganov was visiting polling places in the City of Fairfax but was part of a larger group. "We have around 10-15 monitors from the Embassy," he said.
Nothing drew them to the city specifically, Striganov said, but the turnout at polling places gave him and his colleagues plenty to monitor.
"Citywide, we're at 40 percent at noontime," said John Harold, general registrar for the city. "We didn't have the normal commuter traffic this morning because everyone was voting." In 2000, just over 71 percent of registered voters in the city voted, according to the state elections board Web site.
LINES AT some polling places were so long that some voters were leaving to come back later. "This is my third trip," said Rosemary McDowell, after casting her ballot at City Hall.
John Casen concurred. "I've been voting here since 1956, and I've never seen it like this," he said.
John Molinard, precinct chief at Fairfax High School, took advantage of a rare lull around 12:30 p.m. to vote himself. "This is the first time we've had a lull," he said, as he stood wending his way through the line like everyone else. "It's at least two or three times what we usually have," he said.
In spite of the long waits, Molinard said, people had been generally understanding. "Everyone's been friendly and in good spirits," he said.
The situation was similar at Daniels Run Elementary. "It's been extremely busy," said Dennis Egan, precinct chief. "From 6 [a.m.] to 12:30 [p.m.] we had 50-100 people in line constantly."
Egan has worked in about 15 elections, he said, but the turnout for this one was extremely high. "For the first seven hours, this has far outstripped the turnout for the others."
Carol Dooney disagrees that turnout is especially high this year. The precinct chief at the City Hall precinct, she remembers similar elections. "It was like this in '92," she said. She expects to see turnout numbers similar to that election.
One problem she hopes she does not encounter is a number of late voters. Many residents work in the district, where polls are open until 8 p.m., and that is what people hear all day at work, Dooney said.
Virginia, however, closes its polls at 7 p.m., and in the past, she has been obligated to close the door on potential voters. "About five or 10 minutes before the end, I go down to the parking lot," Dooney said. "If I see anyone driving up, I scream, 'Run.'"