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Hundreds of voters — some armed with coffee, reading materials and folding chairs — crowded together in long lines before the polls opened this morning in Southwest and Downtown.
Some lines flowed more smoothly than others.
At the Armatage Community Center, voters hardly had time to stand still after the voting booths opened at 7 a.m. Nearly 200 voters had cast their ballots within the first hour.
Chas Wallace, 77, shuffled along with his small folding camping chair, sitting for a minute at a time to read a page or two from his book “Boeing vs. Airbus.” Wallace said he was looking forward to the end of what he called a “disgusting” campaign season.
“I’m sick of working the mute and channels on the television,” he said.
Several other voters shared his opinion.
“I’m glad it’s over,” said Dawn Keller, 36, who voted in Armatage with husband Charlie Keller, 37.
The Kellers said they were undecided until a day ago and they spent the past few days researching the candidates.
“For me, I was trying to decide which person I could trust, more so than looking at the issues,” Charlie Keller said.
The couple chose to keep their voting plans from each other until after their ballots were cast. They said their votes ended up canceling each other out.
Most voters in Armatage spent about an hour in line and were surprised by the fast pace.
People weren’t waiting long to vote in Downtown, either.
Outside Central Lutheran Church, a visible line was formed by 6:30 a.m., and when the doors opened 30 minutes later, it had started to curve around the building.
Julie Duncan, 47, and her son Ben, 22, were part of the early-morning crowd. The jumpstart to their day was motivated partly by a fear of Sen. Barack Obama becoming the next U.S. president, they said, and partly by the younger Duncan’s eagerness to get his vote out.
“He’s just been waiting for this election,” Julie Duncan said of her son. “He’s so excited.”
So excited that he woke up at 5 a.m., much earlier than usual.
“I’ve liked [presidential candidate Sen. John] McCain for a while,” Ben Duncan said, at least since the 2004 election, which fell just days after his 18th birthday. Obama, he said, doesn’t have enough experience to lead the nation. His mother said she was concerned about the Democratic candidate’s associations with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who caught fire for a string of controversial statements.
Jeff and Amanda Reierson, 30 and 27 respectively, were equally adamant that McCain be elected president, citing the sliding economy and the war in Iraq as their chief concerns.
“We need to finish what we started,” Jeff Reierson said about the war. His brother-in-law, he said, serves in the U.S. Navy.
He added that he was happy to vote along the Republican Party line when it came to other issues on the ballot, specifically in the state senatorial race. Incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman, he said, has the knowledge and experience to continue in Washington, D.C.
“He’s been there,” Jeff Reierson said. “He’s been doing a good job.”
Besides, he added, he can’t shake the image of Democratic candidate Al Franken dressed up on Saturday Night Live.
“I can’t help but think of him as Stuart Smalley,” he said.
Just south of Downtown, a line of nearly 300 people snaked a full block around the Whittier International Elementary School at a few minutes after 8 a.m.
Election watchers outside said the line hadn’t let up since the polls opened. Some voters, with books and magazines and cigarettes in hand, had prepared for the wait. Others clearly hadn’t expected such a turnout.
"Hey Barb, have you ever seen a line like this?" an older woman called out to an acquaintance about 50 people ahead of her in line.
Her acquaintance turned, shielded her eyes from the early-morning sun, and called back: "Never!"
Long lines lasted into late morning at some polling places.
Voters leaving Emerson School at 11:30 a.m. today waited an hour-and-a-half to cast their votes.
“But it’s a beautiful day,” said one voter who waited in a line that wrapped around the building.
“I’m excited to see such a great turnout,” said Loring Park resident Michael Reinbold.
Another Loring Park resident who declined to give his name said he took off a half day of vacation to make sure he had enough time to vote.
“It will be historic, no matter which way it goes,” he said.
The Oak Grove Grocery, located across the street from a polling place at Oak Grove Towers, advertised a Voter’s Special of bottled water for 25 cents.
“I think it’s going to be a landslide,” one customer said confidently before glancing around the store. ”But I don’t want to speak out of turn.”
Election Judge Dave Jansen greeted voters as they came up to the front steps of Oak Grove Towers. He was enjoying a lull in the crowds, and said the line would start packing the sidewalk again at 5 p.m. Jansen is volunteering from 6 a.m.–8 p.m. today, a time commitment that he figures he can handle once every four years. He didn’t expect to stay up tonight to watch the returns come in, however.
“I’ll see it tomorrow morning,” he said.
Afternoon voters in Kingfield, Linden Hills avoid long lines
James Penfield walked out of his apartment on Election Day to find that his car was missing. The freelance artist quickly realized it had been towed by city crews that had been leaf-sweeping.
Without a ride, he began the five-mile trek from his Linden Hills apartment to the impound lot on foot with a $300 fine waiting for him. But before he could get there, elections volunteers drove by and offered him a ride to the polls instead.
“So, that’s one way to vote,” he joked.
While Penfield’s story was uncommon Nov. 4, overall, early reports had Southwest polling stations running smoothly and voters enjoying the expeditious experience.
“It went really smoothly; I was surprised,” said Kingfield’s Susan Jordet, who intentionally planned to vote around 1 p.m. at Martin Luther King Park on Nicollet.
Hour-long waits were reported outside Pershing Park in Fulton neighborhood. And around 2 p.m., a block-long line of voters could be seen standing outside the VFW on Lyndale.
Voter Pam Leffler said she managed to avoid a line at the Linden Hills Recreation Center, 3100 43rd St. W., which earlier that morning stretched out the door to Zenith Avenue.
City estimates had upwards of 80 percent of eligible voters turning out for the always-popular presidential elections. Nonetheless, most voters in Linden Hills and Kingfield polled between 1 and 2 p.m. said the process took about 10 minutes.
That didn’t make filling in the circles any easier for one Linden Hills resident who went by “Jane” and opted not to give her last name.
“I went in not knowing who I was going to vote for,” she said. “I filled the presidential race in last — saving the best for last.”
In the end, she — and every one of the dozen voters the Southwest Journal spoke with in both neighborhoods — said she voted for Barack Obama.
Although Kingfield’s Gary Nelson said he had his mind made up well before he got to the polls.
“First and foremost he’s the only presidential candidate that inspired me,” he said. “He’s a good speaker and was one of the few candidates who can engage people.”
Nelson, who looked to be in his early-30s, said 2008 election issues were comparable to that of 1960.
“There’s this feeling that history is happening today,” he said. “I feel empowered.”
Many others, not surprisingly, remained worried. In short order, the economy, education, the Iraq War and health care were issues voters said they cared about most.
Jerome Quarterman, who was laid off from his job as a Wells Fargo mortgage banker, didn’t necessarily say he believed in Obama’s plan to turn around the economy. He sees it as more of a need for change.
“The eight years under Clinton we had a good life,” he said. “The eight years under George Bush have been bulls***.”