November 7, 2012

ALL OVER Virginia, Maryland and the District, they lined up. At 5:30 a.m. on Election Day, about a dozen people were waiting for a Crystal City polling place to open, an early-bird voter told The Post’s Susan Svrluga. That may have been one of the shortest lines the region saw all day. Half an hour later, the queue had already swelled to 200. Elsewhere, if not everywhere, the story was similar. In Alexandria, a polling volunteer said that voters crammed a 981-seat auditorium to capacity on Tuesday morning. Corey Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, said he waited two hours to vote in Dale City. Arlington voter Tim Hopkins had to wait only 45 minutes to vote for President Obama, but, stuck outside, he joked on Twitter that the first presidential campaign to bring him some hot coffee might get his support. “It’s cold,” he wrote, “but I won’t be stopped from voting.”

Every election year, you hear Americans complaining that their individual votes do not matter enough for them to bother with the process. On Tuesday, 120 million voters across the country displayed an inspiring allegiance to the opposite principle — that participating in the selection of the country’s leaders is essential to the health of our democracy. Many sacrificed their mornings, afternoons or evenings, showed up to work late or took off early, each to do his or her small but crucial part in this grand civic ritual. In Virginia, the Washington region’s only swing state, more than 3.5 million showed up to vote, a turnout of roughly 70 percent. In Fairfax County, turnout was 80.5 percent.

Still, participation would surely be even higher if the process were more pleasant. Officials in Virginia say more voting machines would help. But they — and, for that matter, the federal government — should also be thinking about streamlining the process in more fundamental ways, like experimenting with online voting. The officials warn against overspending on polling equipment or anything else for the sake of that rare election in which turnout is unusually high. But this is the second presidential election in a row in which voters flocked to the polls.

After Virginia’s polling places officially closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, lines still snaked outside. The State Board of Elections suspended its reporting of vote tallies because so many were still waiting to cast ballots. The last Fairfax County resident to vote left the Skyline precinct at 10:30 p.m.

A few hours later, a newly reelected President Obama addressed the millions whose votes propelled the country past another post in its political history. “I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time,” he said. “By the way,” he added, “we have to fix that.” We couldn’t agree more.