SALEM – Leftover Halloween lights twinkled orange against the black sky and heavy frost covered the grass as the first voters lined up to cast ballots Tuesday in Salem, Glenvar and surrounding areas of Roanoke County.
It looked as though record numbers of people were taking the time and effort to exercise their rights to vote.
Lines wrapped around inside and outside polling places at times on Nov. 6. Although most people interviewed before 6:30 a.m. said they usually went early, others were making sure they had time.
Registrars said 72 percent of registered Salem voters – which was down about 1 percent from 2008 presidential voting – and 74.9 percent of Roanoke County voters cast ballots.
A total of 12,301 Salem voters went to the polls on Tuesday, favoring Republican Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama who was re-elected by the nation – except in the Conehurst precinct, where Obama had a narrow lead. Salem voters also favored Republican George Allen for Senate over Democrat Tim Kaine – although Kaine apparently won the state with a narrow margin of 51 percent to 48 percent – and hometown boy Morgan Griffith for the House of Representatives, who won with 61 percent over Democrat Anthony Flaccavento’s 38 percent in the district.
About the same percentages held true for Roanoke County. Both constitutional amendments passed locally, regarding taking of land by eminent domain only for public use, and the state legislative sessions not be delayed by more than a week.
People who didn’t want to stand in long lines on Tuesday for health and 16 other reasons voted absentee in person on Saturday. Salem Registrar Dana Oliver said 438 had voted by mail this year, almost 100 more than in 2008, and by mid-day on Saturday 770 people had come in to vote absentee in person.
It was a good thing that Salem-area voters went out to vote early. Across the state, people were still in line at the 7 p.m. closing time and the Virginia State Board of Elections delayed reporting any results until an hour later in order not to influence any voters, the board said.
Halfway through the day, polling places such as Wildwood Precinct in the Glenvar area of Roanoke County had hit more than 50 percent of registered voters coming to vote.
“We hit 51 percent – 787 voters – by 1:45 p.m., out of our 1,541 registered voters,” said Wildwood Election Chief Tim Lawlor. “We must be doing something right.” In the last presidential election four years ago, that precinct had 77 percent turnout. Lawlor, who has been an election official for six years and chief for five of those, figured this year would beat the 2008 turnout.
“We had them waiting at the door for us to open at 6 a.m.,” said Marlene Wine, Election Chief at North Salem Precinct No. 2 at First United Methodist Church in Salem.
“Thank you for voting and have a great day,” election officer Cathy Cooper told departing voters. “I’m impressed how many people were here at 6 a.m.,” she added.
The same was true across town at Bethel Baptist Church, where the line snaked across the church’s multipurpose recreation room in which Salem’s largest precinct, Hidden Valley, votes. Election Chief Louis Schwalm said 165 people out of the 2,686 registered voted in the first hour.
“I’m surprised to see so many,” said Fielding Logan, who usually votes closer to noon he said. His wife, Sissy, is normally an early voter, she said.
Salem High School students Will Pratt, Noah Carter and Seth Greer showed up at the North Salem precinct at 6 a.m., even though they’re not 18 yet. They were handing out sample ballots for the Republican Party and the Democratic Party – they got to choose which – and getting extra credit for government class. They braved the cold for 90 minutes, then went to class at SHS. “Be sure and tell people we were here at 6 a.m., not p.m.” said Pratt.