In some ways, Election Day 1985 was like a reunion at Precinct 306.
The precinct's chief officer, Thelma Robinson, knew most voters' names without having to check the computer printout.
Two women, emerging from their curtained privacy at the same instant, embraced each other like cousins at an annual family picnic.
As a steady trail of retirees from the black, middle-class community surrounding Virginia Union University -- and a thinner stream of students -- came in from the chilly rain to spend a minute or two behind the curtain of a voting booth, it was clear there was something special about this election.
Many voters here in Precinct 306, particularly the elderly whose numbers are growing in this stable neighborhood, said the presence of L. Douglas Wilder, a Richmond lawyer and a graduate of Virginia Union, on the Democratic slate for lieutenant governor made yesterday different from decades of November Tuesdays.
"I've been voting ever since I was 21, and I wasn't going to miss this one," said Aretha Butts, 67, as she pulled a rain hat over her ears before venturing back into the chilly mist.
Butts said she never imagined seeing the name of a black man on the slate for statewide office.
"I never thought it was possible -- not in Virginia," she said. "It made me feel very proud."
By early afternoon, 32 percent of the precinct's 1,200 voters had shown up -- a typical midday turnout for a precinct in which 73.8 percent of registered voters voted four years ago.
In Alexandria, Northern Virginia's only area with large concentrations of black voters, blacks appeared to be headed to the polls in unusually high numbers, according to an estimate of an elections official.
Overall voting appeared to be slightly lower than in 1981. Democratic strategists were worried that, statewide, the numbers of blacks voting would fall below 14 percent of the total vote, the record level four years ago.
Precinct 306, which traditionally votes Democratic, has been predominantly black since the early 1960s, said poll workers and longtime residents. A middle-class community of single-family homes, it is one of 34 Richmond precincts with black populations of 65 percent or more.
There are 72 precincts in all in the city.
College students -- about 300 at Virginia Union are registered to vote here -- toting backpacks and calculus books trickled into the room, some apparently first-time voters who grinned sheepishly as they asked how the voting machines work.
For the team of poll workers that has worked this precinct for the last four years, and for many of the older voters, Election Day is a time to see old friends.
By 8 a.m., two hours after the polls opened, the warm, moist voting room at 306 was filled with the metallic ka-chunk of voting booth curtains being closed and the lighter sound of greetings: "How's the baby?" "Is your father feeling better?" "The rain still coming down?"
The rain was light but steady at 9 a.m., and Velma Jackson smiled as she walked up to every person who approached Henderson Hall.
"Please consider the Democratic ticket," she told one woman.
"And especially him," she added, handing the voter a post card showing Wilder posing in front of a Virginia map.
Some voters in 306 said their allegiances were deeply rooted in decades of Democratic politics.
"I had to vote Democratic," said John Stewart, 76. "When [Franklin D.] Roosevelt got in, I ate the best and bought my house. Everything I've ever gotten, I've gotten from a Democratic president."
Democratic precinct captain John Hewlett quarreled good-naturedly with a friend who said he had voted for Durrette and Wilder.
Hewlett, 72, pulled his houndstooth hat over his brow and shook his head.
"I never thought I would live to participate in an election in which a black was running for the second-highest office in the state," he said