A day in the life of a Suffolk election

Published 11:55 pm Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Voters mark their ballots at John Yeates Middle School on Tuesday morning.

There was a spirit of high anticipation at voter precincts around Suffolk on Tuesday as voters were turning out in numbers rivaled only by the historic 2008 presidential election to cast their ballots for candidates at the local and national levels.

Voters across the city found long ballots as they chose from candidates for School Board, City Council, mayor, House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and president and voted on two proposed amendments to the Virginia Constitution.

The marquee races — for president and U.S. Senate at the national level and for mayor at the local level — drew the most interest and volunteer participation, judging by the election materials and signs outside the approved perimeters.

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Suffolk News-Herald reporters were out around the city on Tuesday, visiting polling places and talking to the voters about their experience, about the campaign and about what it meant to them to be able to cast their ballots.

Here’s what the voters and election workers were saying:

At 10 a.m., the parking lot behind the Crittenden-Eclipse-Hobson Ruritan clubhouse was nearly full, and as each parking space was emptied, it soon was occupied by another vehicle arriving to the sound of gravel crunching under the tires.

The precinct is in a close-knit community, so inside and outside the building, there were plenty of greetings between and among voters, poll workers and campaign workers standing outside, buttoned up against the morning chill.

Upon entering, voters were confronted with a line, something that’s a bit unusual for that time of day on Election Day in Eclipse.

Riding a motorized chair out of the clubhouse, Barry Paul said he was surprised at the number of people who had turned out to vote at the same time he did on Tuesday.

“It makes me proud to be an American,” said Paul, who retired from the U.S. Navy after 22 years as a diver and then as a foundry operator making parts for American warships.

Paul suffered a stroke in December and is still paralyzed in his left leg, though he said he is “getting better” now. He’s been following the campaign closely this year, and he said he voted for Mitt Romney for president, because “we need a change.”

“We’re cutting up the (U.S.S.) Enterprise,” he said sadly, referring to the decommissioning of the Navy’s famous aircraft carrier.

Inside, Melanie Croley of Bridge Road corralled her three young sons as she waited patiently for about 20 minutes for her turn to vote.

“They don’t have school today,” she said, nodding to the boys, “and I sure couldn’t leave them at home.”

“It’s just important that they see at their young age,” she said. “Not everyone in the world has a chance to do this.”

Sitting behind the two election officials working the check-in desk near the entrance of the CE&H Ruritan Club were three volunteers working for Project Orca, the Republican Party’s technologically advanced get-out-the-vote/poll monitoring project.

One volunteer had a laptop and one on either side of him had smartphones. As each voter checked in with the election officials and gave his or her name, the three volunteers checked the name against a list from that precinct that had been pre-loaded onto their phones and swiped a slider to note the person had voted.

According to the website BusinessInsider.com, the information about who had voted was then relayed to Romney’s Boston campaign headquarters, helping phone-bank volunteers better focus their Election Day efforts.

A Romney campaign memo quoted on the Miami Herald’s website on Friday states that 34,000 volunteers would be sent out to precincts across the nation as part of the effort. Another 800 would work the “national dashboard” in Boston.

But the get-out-the-vote and poll-watching efforts also took more traditional forms, as operatives from both political parties stopped in Eclipse Tuesday morning.

“We’re just making sure there are no anomalies, making sure people are moving and the process is going smoothly,” said Bob Stephens, a former aide to President Bill Clinton who now lives in Suffolk and remains active in Democratic Party activities.

“We want to make sure everybody’s happy.”

Virginia Delegate S. Chris Jones, a Republican who represents Suffolk in the General Assembly, arrived at the precinct at about 10:30 a.m., along with wife Karen and daughter Kaitlin, who was home from college to vote. They had visited two other precincts before coming to Eclipse.

“There’s an unbelievable flow of voters turning out,” Chris Jones said. “It’s been pleasing to see.”

— R.E. Spears III

The chief of Suffolk’s Electoral Board reported Tuesday afternoon the voting process had gone smoothly, with only a few minor hiccups, on Election Day.

A laptop that contained an electronic poll book failed to function at King’s Fork Middle School and caused a slight delay, Kenneth Carpenter said.

“It probably caused a little bottleneck at the check-in,” Carpenter said, adding that there could have been other precincts with laptop problems.

“I don’t know all of the others,” he said. “We have old, refurbished laptops, and anything can happen to those things.”

Carpenter also added members of the Electoral Board had addressed candidates standing at the door handing out literature at the Driver precinct. By state code, literature distribution and any other campaigning must occur more than 40 feet from the entrance to the polling place.

At precincts in the Whaleyville borough, the voting process was going smoothly after the morning rush.

“It was easy,” said Louwana Cochrane, who voted at Booker T. Washington Elementary School. “I only waited about 20 minutes.”

She revealed votes for Barack Obama for president, Tim Kaine for Senate, Leroy Bennett for mayor and Marion Flood for School Board. She also expressed surprise that nobody ran against Councilman Curtis Milteer, who is set to win a ninth term handily.

About 600 people had voted at the school by 11:30 a.m., chief officer Yolanda Scott said.

Election officers at the Airport precinct said a similar number had voted through noon. Poll workers were getting their first break of the day just before the lunch hour, they said there.

“I didn’t have to wait at all,” voter Ellen Poe said.

“I walked right in,” Delores Leary said.

— Tracy Agnew

About 8 a.m. at Creekside Elementary School, Edidia Nefso, 36, who with her husband came to America in 1993 from Ethiopia, was waiting patiently in line to vote for the first time.

The new American citizen this year, an environmental engineer, said, “It is very important.”

She had never cast a ballot in Ethiopia, she said, explaining, “Voting there doesn’t really happen correctly, so it doesn’t matter.”

The Nefsos have a 5-year-old son and live near Creekside, she said, adding that her first vote is “absolutely” an important experience.

“I do support Barack Obama,” she said, “and my vote might make a difference for him. I’m glad that I’m voting this year, especially.”

She said she thinks Obama has “done a relatively good job, for the state of the economy. And I like his stance of foreign affairs.”

Also at Creekside, Kyle Blue, 30, a U.S. Army warrant officer in his fatigues, was voting for the first time, for Mitt Romney. “Before I used to just always say, ‘Whoever the Commander in Chief was, that’s my boss,’ but now things are changing, it’s getting harder in the military, it’s about time to get out there and make my voice heard,” he said.

Blue said he’d researched the other races “a little bit,” but couldn’t say whom he’d vote for in those.

Sara K. Beazley, 65, said, “I felt compelled that I had to come out and vote for Barack Obama because of the thing that Mitt Romney was going to do to Medicare,” she said.

Earlier, at a couple of minutes past 7 a.m., the line at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center off Bridge Road wound out the door and around the parking lot.

Ashley Vanclies, inching closer to casting her vote but not there yet, said she had arrived at 5:45 a.m.

“When we got here we were over there,” she said, pointing behind her. “Every year when we’ve voted there’s been a long line, so we were prepared.”

Vanclies said it was a “very important election. I want Obama to stay in. If it is God’s will, Obama will be president no matter who anybody votes for — that’s what I believe.”

She would also vote in the other elections, she added, but as for whom, “I’ll figure it out when I get up there.”

She was glad to have seen her last political attack ad for a while. “I’m glad to stop seeing those commercials,” she said.

Lorvetta Hamilton, 44, did not want to reveal who she supports. She said she got in line “right at 6,” adding, “It’s very important, especially for my kids and grandkids.”

Loretta Pitt, 70, also declining to disclose her preferred candidates, said of the line, “I’ve seen more than this.” She also said this election was important for her grandchildren “and great-grandchildren, as well as for myself.

Bonnie Wells, 54, planned to vote for Mitt Romney “because he believes in country, and America is not Europe, and I don’t know why we have to go down the European path. “Even the Europeans say, ‘America, why do you want to go down the same path we are going? It doesn’t work.’ We’re a Republic and not a socialist country.”

Comic relief to the tedium of voting at VMASC came when an election worker announced that pregnant women did not have to wait.

One young man, attempting to avail himself of the opportunity, placed his hands inside his jacket, leaned back and made for the front of the line to a burst of laughter.

Catherine Day, 42, said it was important for everyone to have a voice on Election Day. She said she would vote for Obama because “he can get it right,” adding that she had never voted before 2008.

At John Yeates Middle School were first-time voters, siblings Katlyn Beaman, 21, and Graeme Beaman, 18.

“It’s not as busy as I expected, so that’s good,” Katlyn said.

“It feels like we’re making a point, trying to get our opinion across,” Graeme said.

Both were planning to vote for Romney, following the lead of their parents, Katlyn said. “They encouraged us,” she said. “They’re diehard Republicans,” her brother added.

Asked about the other races, Graeme said, “I’ve been doing research on George Allen … he seems like a good candidate.” “I agree,” Katlyn added.

Nelly Carbaugh, chief polling officer at John Yeates, has worked the precinct for “almost 30 years” and said the school was packed earlier in the morning.

“We had them down the hall and out the door and around the building,” she said. “We have voted 800 people already this morning, which is awesome.”

But it was nothing on 2008.

“When I got here at a few minutes to five this morning, I had maybe 10 people here. (In 2008), when I got here at a quarter to five, I already had people lined up around the building, sitting in everything from wheelchairs to lawn chairs with umbrellas in the rain.”

First-timer Matthew Meinertzhagen, 21, supported a Libertarian candidate for president. “My mind had been made up for a long time,” he said.

Derrick Armstrong, at John Yeates with son Donte Armstrong, said his picks were Obama for president, Tim Kaine for senator, Ella Ward for Congress and Linda Johnson, who happened to be outside shaking hands as he spoke, for mayor.

“I think she’s been doing a good job,” he said of Johnson. “I didn’t know nothing about the other two, so why take a chance?”

The chief election officer at Nansemond River High, Anita Hicks, said the line of about 10 folks waiting to vote when she arrived at 5 a.m. grew to “up the street” by 5:30. “We figured out a way to get them in here and curl them around,” she said.

First-time voter Kendra Jackson, 18, there with grandparents Lola, 67, and Sinclair, 71, Lewis, voted for Obama and thought that the physical process of doing so would be “more complicated.”

“It was easy,” she said. “I was a little nervous.”

—Matthew A. Ward