Lines were long, but voters braved them to make voices heard

Published 9:59 pm Thursday, November 6, 2008

Many around the nation were looking to Virginia and its newly appointed “battleground” status to possibly cast the deciding votes in this year’s presidential election.

It seems that Western Tidewater voters took that mission seriously. Many even braved the rain to stand in lines well before the polls opened.

Anthony King, who volunteered as a poll watcher, said he was surprised when he arrived at his assigned precinct. “The line was already pretty long at 5:45 a.m. when I got here. People were actually standing in the rain before daylight. I couldn’t believe it.”

The unofficial numbers for the City of Franklin reveal that out of 5,888 active voters, 4,424 took time out on Tuesday to go to the polls. That meant a 75 percent turnout for the city.

“I believe this was the highest turnout I have seen people-wise, even though it wasn’t the greatest percentage,” said Voter Registrar Sandra Holloman.

Holloman said the biggest difference she saw was in the number of absentee ballots.

“In the past we have never received over 209,” she said. “This year, we had 606.”

Isle of Wight Assistant Registrar Vicki Lonsdale said she believes the county had a record turnout.

“We haven’t seen numbers like this before,” she said. “We even needed the Sherriff’s Department to come out and help direct traffic because of all the people.”

Seventy-nine percent of Isle of Wight’s eligible electorate chose to participate, with 20,009 of the 25,403 registered voters casting their ballots. That is a 5 percent increase over the turnout in the 2004 presidential race, when 74 percent of the registered voters showed up.

Southampton County Registrar Leona Davis, who has served in her post for several years, was in awe of how many turned out to vote.

“This is honestly the largest presidential election I can remember,” she said. “We’ve had some big local elections, but this is certainly one of the biggest.”

Southampton County saw 9,062 of its 11,819 voters at the polls. That accounted for nearly 77 percent of the county’s active voters.

Across the state, voter turnout averaged 74 percent.

While up from the 2004 presidential race, when 71.4 percent of Virginia voters participated, the numbers were not the highest officials had seen statewide.

“In 1992, nearly 85 percent of registered voters turned up for the election. Still, the number of actual voters this year is the highest ever with over 5 million,” said Valerie Jones, an official in the Virginia State Board of Elections office. “Before Tuesday, the presidential election of 2004 held the record at 3,223,156 voters.”

Lonsdale said the next few days will be quiet, but the registrars’ offices around Virginia wouldn’t have long to catch their breath.

“We will be cleaning up around here for the next few days, but after that, it’s on to preparations for the governor’s race in 2009.”