IT’S FINALLY HAPPENING: The hard-fought battle between John McCain and Barack Obama is in the hands of voters like us. So after an election awash in sprawling tales of the economy, health care and global climate change it all comes down to this: you, standing in line, waiting to vote.

It’s a simple American story, and every one is different. What was your trip to the polls like? Was it crowded? Cold? Hot? Filled with partisan bluster? Cloaked in silence? We want to know.

So when you go to your local polling station, keep your eyes peeled and your ears open. Once you get back to your office, leave a comment at the bottom of this post. Our D.C., Maryland and Virginia staffers have started weighing in on their experiences. Read their dispatches below.

“You guys got here at a really good time, the line is really short.” A twentysomething gal in a fuschia fleece handed my sister and me an Arlington Democratic Sample Ballot, and gestured to the line wrapped around the sidewalk. “It should only take you 45 minutes. Fifteen minutes ago, there were people all the way to that stop sign over there.” She pointed further up the street. Nice. Compared to a failed attempt to vote absentee this past Sunday at the Arlington County office in Courthouse — which had a three-and-a-half-hour wait — this would be a breeze.

And it was. It only took 30 minutes. Considering Virginia is a bellwether state, and Northern Virginia is playing a pivotal role in whether the commonwealth goes blue today, I had expected heated arguments. People pulling out yard signs. Passion! Excitement!

The closest thing to a conflict? After receiving the Democratic sample on my left, a petite woman in her 70s with short curly hair and glasses approached me on my right to pass along an Arlington GOP Sample Ballot with a smile. If only she had pushed me aside to tackle her pamphlet opponent to the ground! Her hands locked around Fleece Girl’s neck in a kung fu grip! Hurry someone call for help!

Instead, it was just chit chat and friendly smiles as my neighbors and I patiently waited our turn. It started to drizzle. Cute Republican pamphlet lady fiddled with her American flag umbrella, and a “Good Morning America” camera crew set up equipment in front of the Lyon Village Community House polling station. I licked the corner of my mouth to check for toothpaste spittle. Whew. Now that was a close call. — Kris Coronado/Express

“The line at Hine wrapped wildly like a vine.”

I spent the better part of my five-or-so-minute walk to Lemon G. Hine Junior High on Capitol Hill thinking of that rhyme to use in this writeup because I’d girded myself for the worst. Voter turnout was high, I’d heard. Polling stations were swamped. I was ready for some old-fashioned waitin’.

Turns out, my poetic moment took longer than voting did.

I arrived at Hine at 9:35 a.m., striding through the gantlet of political operatives handing out fliers for D.C. Council At-Large candidates Patrick Mara, Michael A. Brown and Carol Schwartz By 9:36, I was in the check-in line behind two older residents: a woman and a man who both looked to be in their 70s.

Both seemed as surprised as I was by how swiftly the process was moving.

“I don’t need an ID?” the woman asked.

“No, because you voted before. You’re fine,” the election worker responded assuringly.

“That’s easier than I thought,” the woman replied.

So was the whole process. By 9:39, I had a ballot in hand. By 9:43 — hey, it’s worth rechecking those arrows, isn’t it? — I’d handed it in.

The Hine staff had apparently weathered their share of trouble. One election worker told a woman who requested to vote electronically that she couldn’t because “somebody sabotaged the machine.” Yikes.

But I didn’t mind voting the old-fashioned way, and my experience at Hine couldn’t have been simpler. — Greg Barber/Express

We arrived at 7:45 a.m. to find the expected long line running out the door and down the sidewalk of Forest Knolls Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md. What we didn’t find, however, was a single McCain-Palin sign — or any Republican’s sign — posted alongside the placards for Obama-Biden, Chris Van Hollen and the like.

It smelled of a Democratic conspiracy, so I carefully monitored those in line with me to see if I could suss out any party affiliations — and by “party,” I mean “Communist,” of course. Because why else except for a secret socialist revolution would there not be a single Republican candidate advertisement outside the voter center — or as far as I could tell, in the entire Silver Spring and Wheaton areas that I call my ‘hoods?

It took us an hour and 15 minutes of waiting until I could finally cast my vote, and it was worth every second of the time because not only was I able to exercise my democratic right, I was able to deduce exactly what was happening in this mixed-race, middle-class enclave of Montgomery County. As we left the school, we spotted this shifty li’l devil at right — surely an agent of ACORN — hovering around the Obama-Biden signs.

He looked like he had just swallowed a canary (or a box of Cheerios), and a pile of McCain-Palin signs lay in a dirty heap near his sippy cup.

We’re on to you, dude, and if Barack Obama wins the election, we’ll know it’s because of you and your nefarious activities.

(And, yeah, we saw your “I Voted” sticker — but how many times? Voter fraud!) — Christopher Porter/Express

» NEED TO KNOW where your polling place is? Check in with‘s Local Voters Guide.

Photos by Greg Barber/Express; Christopher Porter/Express