Virginia Beach Registrar Donna Patterson said she had never seen anything like it in the five presidential elections she’s worked as an elections official, calling the scene outside her office “just incredible.”
“We have as many people here to process voters as we can, but with this huge of a turnout, there’s not a lot we can do to move the lines faster,” Patterson said.
As weary voters exited the site at the city treasurer’s office at a Virginia Beach shopping center, people in line cheered for them.
Among them were Ryan Loberternos, 35, and Liliya Zeigler, 31, who had been waiting for six hours. The couple came on Saturday to avoid long lines on Election Day and heard from friends that the wait might be as long as 2½ hours.
“It was definitely longer than we expected,” Loberternos said. But he added that at no time did they think about leaving. “We came here with the sole purpose of getting it done.”
As they waited, they guzzled water and ate some pizza, before finally, in the fourth hour, Loberternos remembered that he had a chair in his car.
Whom did they vote for? “Not Trump,” Zeigler said.
Patterson said people started lining up as early as 5:45 a.m., even though the voting sites didn’t open until 9. Her best estimate was that there were “hundreds and hundreds” of people in the lines — not including the dozens of cars also queued up for curbside voting.
Helen Card, 75, and Doretha Britt, 82, arrived at 8:15 to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Card tried to get Britt to wait in her car, but she refused. Instead, they stood in line without chairs. “She’s 82, and she’s been out here for five hours,” Card said.
Card, who works in hospice, said Trump’s failure to address the coronavirus pandemic is what motivated her. “Nothing is getting done about it,” she said. “He’s not even wearing a mask.”
For Nina Quitugua, 18, it was her first chance to vote. She and her mother, Natasha Swanson, arrived at 8:15 a.m., and by 1:30 p.m., they still had dozens of people in front of them.
Both planned to vote for Biden. Swanson voted for Trump last time. “I voted him in,” she said. “Now, I’m going to vote him out.”
Virginia Beach, home to the largest concentration of voters in the 2nd Congressional District, is also the battleground turf in the race between Rep. Elaine Luria (D) and former congressman Scott W. Taylor, whom Luria ousted in 2018. Polling by Christopher Newport University showed them in a dead heat in Virginia Beach, although Luria had a slight edge overall as Biden led by nine points in the district.
Patterson said she couldn’t add more computers or more satellite locations this late. Some of the backlog is in part because of coronavirus precautions; a limited number of people are allowed into polling locations at a time — just 14 to 16 voters at Virginia Beach’s government center, she said.
As of 4:15 p.m., the wait stretched to seven hours at the location at the shopping mall in Virginia Beach’s Kempsville neighborhood, according to the registrar’s website.
Fairfax County also saw enormous, four-hour lines at the beginning of early voting for similar reasons and has had to make adjustments as recently as this week, extending hours and adding a 15th location for Saturday.
On Saturday afternoon, Registrar Gary D. Scott said that lines were under control but that the wait time could be up to 90 minutes at the government center, while satellite locations varied.
“It’s been brisk,” he said. “They just continue to replenish.”
Scott said more than 377,000 people had voted early in Fairfax County as of Friday, with a record-breaking 14,000 that day. He said he expected the same Saturday.
Across the nation, states and localities have been shattering early-voting records as voters energized by the hyperpartisan presidential election have taken advantage of expanded early-voting access amid the pandemic. According to data compiled by The Washington Post, about 2.6 million early votes had been cast in Virginia as of Saturday evening — more than four times the number of early votes in 2016.
Voting sites were also bustling on Saturday in Henrico County, home to western suburbs of Richmond where U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) is hoping for a big blue turnout to fend off a challenge from state Del. Nick Freitas (R).
Even some smaller jurisdictions, like Lynchburg, were slammed. Lynchburg General Registrar Christine Gibbons estimated the wait time was about two hours.
When she arrived at 7:45 a.m. to find voters already lined up, “somebody walked by and just said, ‘This is unreal.’ ”