When Charren Brooks got to her polling place at Archstone Water Park Towers in Crystal City, Va. at 5:30 a.m., there were already a dozen people in line. "By 6, it was CRAZY," Brooks said.
Volunteers steered 200 or so voters into a long line that snaked and folded through the plush lobby of the apartment building, reminding the crowd to leave room for residents of the building to squeeze in. It was pitch black outside, a Metro train rumbling past with glowing windows, construction lights tracing the skeleton of a new office tower rising across the street.
"This is fun, right?" a volunteer said to the sleepy crowd clutching coffees and smart phone devices. "You only get to do this every four years."
Brooks, 44, said she arrived at the polls early to cast her vote for President Obama. "I want to see what he will do in his second term. Me personally, I'm in a better place than I was," four years ago, she said, adding that she works for an architectural engineer on transportation projects.
"My bank account has increased, my 401k has increased... It's been good for infrastructure over the past four years," because of federal spending, she said, beaming.
Brooks said she didn't pay attention to local races like the school board; she's single with no kids.
Cindy Foister, 55, was there at 5:30 a.m. too, before going to work at the Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. She voted for all the Republicans. "I definitely feel we're headed in the wrong direction," Foister said, adjusting her paisley scarf. "I'm very conservative."
Pat Partee got to Bowie High School in Prince George's County, Md., at 5 a.m. to be the first person at her polling place before it opened at 7 a.m. The nurse said she wore blue scrubs and blue tennis shoes to show her support for Obama.
A long line of voters stacked behind her, and dozens of people stood in the cold outside clutching hot coffee as their breath puffed in the air.
Relief from the cold came a few minutes before 7 a.m. A poll worker opened the doors and hollered: "You may come in but you may not enter the polling place!" Voters streamed in, forming a line inside near the gymnasium.
About 7:40 a.m., a poll worker at informed voters that it was taking longer than usual for workers to process people through the line. The polling place was short on supplies of voter access cards. "We're doing the best we can," the poll worker said. "Please don't leave, we still like you. We still need your votes."