Hundreds present for absentee voting

Published 10:59 pm Monday, October 27, 2008

Hundreds of voters swarmed the Suffolk Voter Registrar’s office on Monday, braving the dreary weather in order to cast their absentee ballots.

With less than a week left to vote absentee, Virginians who have qualified to do so have turned out in huge numbers to vote ahead of time.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Sharon Thornhill, the general registrar, taking a break from witnessing ballots.

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Thornhill said when she arrived at 8:30 a.m. Monday, voters were lined up outside, waiting to cast their ballots. The line never died down, and at times it was backed up to West Washington Street.

To make matters worse, the electronic voting machine broke down in the middle of the day, Thornhill said, though it was repaired within a couple of hours.

At 4 p.m., about 50 people had escaped the cold by cramming into the office. Two lines formed – one for people who wanted to cast their ballots electronically, and one for those who wanted to save time with paper ballots.

Some of those who were handed paper ballots marked them standing in line, using a manila folder for a semblance of privacy. Others took them outside the office and marked them standing on the sidewalk.

Voters waiting in line said it was worth it to make sure they could vote.

“I’ll stand,” said Loretta Owens, who will be caring for her sister on Election Day after surgery later this week. “I want my vote to count.”

Owens came prepared, with an umbrella in hand. Others who had heard about the line before arriving brought books, newspapers and folding chairs to help pass the time.

Brenda Stankoski, who will be out of town on personal business on Election Day, was surprised the line was so long in the afternoon. She decided to stay, however, because “it looked like it was really moving along quickly,” she said.

One voter speculated that the line was so long because a rumor was circulating about Oct. 28 being the last day to vote absentee. In reality, Nov. 1 is the last day to vote in-person by absentee ballot at the registrar’s office. Those who are voting by mail must have their absentee ballot applications in the registrar’s office by 5 p.m. today.

The scenario is much the same statewide. Already more people have voted absentee than in the entire 2004 presidential election, said the Virginia State Board of Elections. The State Board is encouraging those who are qualified to vote absentee.