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Voting and Reporting in Northern Virginia

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By Samantha Hayes

My polling location has never been so convenient. All I had to do was walk a couple blocks across the street.  And at 10:30 am I thought I would have perfect timing. The morning commute had passed and the lunch crowd had yet to arrive. Nevermind. At least at the Walker school in Arlington, Virginia, there would be no McVoting.

            The line to vote stretched outside the little gym and all the way down the outside hall.

As I walked to the end I noticed many professionally dressed middle-aged men and women. Younger voters were there, too, and lots of people were on their cell phones explaining why they would be late to their next appointment.

            "I hear its at least a 45 minute wait," said Russ, the man standing directly in front of me.

"And I haven't ever seen anything like this in the 15 years I've lived in Arlington.

            Judy Weiss, the woman checking to make sure everyone was in the correct polling location, overheard us talking about the wait and said folks were showing up outside the school before it opened for voting at 6am.

            "A few people couldn't wait and said they would come back. Its taking a long time because we only have two voting stations set up and they have to check everyone off because there are two ballots, Republican and Democrat, and we don't want anyone to vote twice."  In Virginia, you can show up and vote for a candidate in either party. That tends to bode well for candidates who attract independents like Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama.

            Its those questions a young man standing outside the school was posing to voters as they left.  He stopped me as I was putting my "I Voted" sticker on my fleece. "Hey, can I ask you who you voted for?"  I didn't think Andrew, who, as it turns out, was conducting an informal exit poll for his class on elections at George Washington University, really wanted the opinion of a member of the news media, so I asked him a few questions.  Andrew told me he had been standing outside the school for an hour and a half and had heard from a lot of people who decided to vote for Obama. "Even older people, which was a surprise to me," said Andrew. "Nobody for McCain yet."

            A second polling location in Northern Virginia reflected the same support for Obama.

That's where we reported on the Potomac Primaries through the evening. Precinct organizers told us through 6 o'clock they had seen high turnout. About 3800 people are registered in this precinct and 1100 had voted at that point. 83 percent picked a Democratic ballot. 

            Even as the weather worsened, turning from cold rain into sleet, a steady stream of voters drove in and out of the school parking lot.  We got word later in the evening that polling hours had been extended 90 minutes in Maryland to accommodate voters held up by the weather.

            As the night wrapped up, I thought that perhaps like voters in other states who have been enjoying the primary spotlight, people living in and around the nation's capital are relishing their chance to change the course of this race, too.  And long lines and cold temperatures are not an inconvenience.

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