LAUREL, Va. — The long line of voters snaked through the hallways of Dumbarton Elementary School, a robust turnout that surprised elections officials in this key Virginia county.
“It’s wild, but it’s good,” said Anthony Bates, the harried precinct chief as he flipped through voter rolls Tuesday. “I thought that it might be like 2008, but this is surpassing that.”
By mid-afternoon, voters at Dumbarton were waiting 45 minutes to cast a ballot. In the morning, people had waited two hours, or more. People tapped their smartphones and sipped from bottles of water as they leaned against the colorfully decorated walls of the elementary school.
“There is no end to this line!” declared one wide-eyed little girl as she and her mother sought to reach the tail of it.
There was an end, eventually — and standing there, a bit incredulously, was Pam Magorian, a 53-year-old underwriter.
“I almost gave up, but I’m not going to do that,” she said. “This is what you need to do if you want to get your opinion heard.”
Dumbarton was not the only precinct to field a surge of voters Tuesday. Across Henrico County, a ring of suburbs surrounding Richmond, elections supervisors reported that long lines began early on election day.
When many precincts opened at 6 a.m., there were already crowds of people shivering in the frigid morning air waiting to get in, said Mark Coakley, the county registrar. Officials were bracing for another major wave of voters in the evening.
“It’s been really crowded,” Coakley said, who expects about 70% to 75% of the county’s 211,000 registered voters to turn out, similar to the turnout in 2008. That year, this swath of Virginia suburbia helped Barack Obama move the state into the blue column. After going for the Republican presidential ticket in 2000 and 2004, Henrico County voted for Obama over McCain by a margin of nearly 19,000 votes.
Obama needs to win places like Henrico County if he is to hold onto Virginia this year.
In conversations with more than a dozen voters Tuesday, people cited two main issues driving their votes: federal spending and healthcare.
“The debt is probably the biggest thing for me,” said Kim Baker, 38, an administrator for a financial company, after voting at Hermitage High School. “Just what we are leaving for our children — I just felt like we couldn’t afford four more years.”
Baker was one of several women who said that fiscal concerns overcame any disagreement they felt with Republican challenger Mitt Romney on issues such as abortion.
“I wasn’t 100% behind his views on that, but I made my decisions on other issues,” said Denise Carroll, 32, a registered nurse who voted for Romney.
Kim Wynn, a 26-year-old staffing coordinator, was one of several voters who cited “Obamacare” as their reason for supporting the president.
Wynn said that because of the healthcare overhaul, she was able to stay on her parents’ insurance and get coverage with a pre-existing condition that would have previously led insurers to deny her.
Voting for Obama again, she said with a broad smile, was “a no-brainer.”
Elsewhere in Virginia, turnout also was strong in Sterling in Loudoun County, a swing county that narrowly went for Obama in 2008. By 1 p.m. almost 1,200 of 3,500 registered voters had voted. The polls will close in Virginia at 7 p.m. EST.