Virginia voters see long lines

DUMFRIES, Va. — Voters on Tuesday waited for up to five hours to cast their ballots in parts of Virginia, as political candidates urged residents of the key battleground state to stick it out.

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“It was worth it,” said Daryl Gatlin, of Dumfries, who waited in line for three hours to vote. “I was supposed to pick my kid up and I had to get somebody else to get him because it took so long. I left work early to try to beat the rush, but it didn’t work. I just don’t understand it.”

Gatlin was one of more than 2,000 people to cast his vote at the Potomac High School in Virginia’s 11th District on Tuesday. Long lines of mostly black voters snaked down both sides of eight hallways in the school, as hundreds of residents waited for hours to use one of only six voting machines.

President Obama and Mitt Romney are closely watching Virginia, and its 13 electoral votes, for an early indication of how the national election results could lean.

Obama’s campaign heard about the long lines at the Potomac High School and called Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who represents the district. As his staff handed out water to voters, Connolly walked down the line, asking his constituents to be patient while emphasizing that their vote was very valuable.

And for many, it worked.

“We’ve got to keep Obama in office,” said Maranda Harris, an IT consultant who took off early from work and waited for three and a half hours to vote. Harris said she didn't see anybody leave before they got a chance to vote.

“He needed my vote,” chimed in Harris’s mother, who did not want to be identified. “Let’s just hope it works.”

Gaston Gianni, the chief election official for the county, said he requested more voting machines around noon, when the line began stretching out of the school’s front doors. State officials said they had no spare machines.

“The voters have been outstanding. They’ve been incredibly patient and I can’t say enough about them,” said Gaston Gianni, before he raced off to verify for a voter that he was at the correct precinct.

But amid the crying children, hungry bellies and missed hours at work, there was plenty of laughter and good conversation, according to multiple people. For some of the 5,100 primarily black registered voters in the precinct, the symbolic gesture behind casting their ballot was the most important aspect, after not having the right to vote for most of the country’s history.

“Even if I didn’t want to vote, I feel like I’ve got to vote because I owe it those people who died trying to register to vote,” said Gatlin.

“So this is a piece of cake for me. People got hit in the head and threatened. I can’t see why people wouldn’t vote. The line is long, but you stand in line to get in the club or get an iPad, you might as well stand in line to cast your vote.”

Part of the reason why Virginia saw such long lines in parts of the state is because its Board of Elections requires one machine for every 750 voters, whereas other nearby states, such as Maryland, require one machine for every 200 voters.

But not everywhere in the state held long waits for voters. Further south, in Standardsville and Ruckersville — home to Rep. Robert Hurt’s (R-Va.) 5th District — voters and poll workers said the average wait was about 45 minutes.

And in parts of Culpeper — part of Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) 7th District — lines were as short as 15 minutes at times.

There were no verified instances of voter fraud or voter suppression as of 7 p.m., when polls closed, though several poll workers from both parties throughout the state said they heard about voting irregularities in other precincts.