Strong voter turnout for Election Day 2017

sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com

Despite brisk temperatures and light rain, local residents turned out in droves to vote for Virginia’s next governor and various local candidates who will determine Virginia’s future.

“News stories have been trying to make it about Trump,” said Holly Smith, who voted at Norge Elementary School. “I would be here either way.”

At Jamestown High School, a machine broke down but was fixed within 15 minutes, according to Dianna Moorman, James City County voting registrar.

The school counted 1,600 voters at about 4:15 p.m., topping 47 percent of eligible voters before the after-work crowd arrived.

“We’ve had a pretty steady flow all day long,” said site registrar Patrick Casey. “Given the weather, it’s encouraging that people came out.”

He said that compared to past gubernatorial elections, turnout was encouraging.

Warhill High School saw an estimated 1,300 voters — about one-third of eligible voters — as of 3:45 p.m., according to a poll worker.

Dirty campaigning

The issue of dirty campaigning was on voter's minds at Hornsby Middle School.

Michael Hipple and Joe Swanenburg, both candidates for James City County supervisor in the Powhatan District, were canvassing outside the school Tuesday. While Swanenburg said he thought the campaign had been fair and friendly, Hipple said Swanenburg had been less than kind in his campaigning.

Contradicting signs, which equated Hipple with “higher taxes” or “hope," were scattered around the polling place. Hipple said he's seen mud-slinging across the board this election.

Lisa L. Ownby, candidate for the Williamsburg-James City County School Board's Powhatan seat, said she too had faced un-civil treatment before the election from Michael Giblin's side on social media.

She said his supporters published "slanderous" social media posts about her online in an attempt to sway voters on the WJCC Public School Parents & Community Facebook page. The posts were taken down by Facebook administrators.

Still, dirty campaigns and advertisements didn't sway voters such as Tom Newman one way or the other. Instead, he said he was mostly influenced by political affiliation.

Steven Smith, an economics student at the College of William and Mary, was taking an exit poll of voters for class. He said while there was no strong trend of people voting for more Republicans or Democrats, he noticed people tended to vote mostly all right or all left, with no one polled splitting their vote.

At the King of Glory Lutheran Church, precinct chief Laura Abbene said the location was pretty full since they'd opened at 6 a.m.

"This is usually a pretty robust site," she said. "We've had a couple small lulls, but it's really been busy all day."

Student voters

Many William and Mary students took a short walk from campus to the Williamsburg United Methodist Church on Jamestown Road.

Site registrar Rita Porterfield said voters came early and often. From 10 a.m. onward, students showed up to vote en masse. At about 4:30 or so, staff finally saw a lull.

"This is one of the first times we've actually had a chance to breathe," she said. "We've had it where there was a line out of the door. You can't complain about a pretty good turnout, though. That's always welcome news."

Former Williamsburg city planning director Reed Nester served as an election official at the Williamsburg Community Building.

"It's been pretty busy, but it's slowed around lunchtime," he said.

Roberts District Supervisor John McGlennon said he saw pretty steady turnout across the various Roberts polling sites.

As of about 10 a.m., 100 people had voted at Grace Baptist Church, according to Republican volunteer Peter Gushue. He said the precinct captain there told him he expected about 280 people overall.

“It’s been a slow, steady trickle of people coming in the precinct,” said Democratic volunteer and former Williamsburg-James City County School Board member Denise Koch outside the precinct. “There’s only 800 people in the precinct, so it’s kind of small.”

Koch added that most voters were in and out with little fanfare.

“It’s a good crowd, they don’t talk much,” she said. “We have some people who very definitely know who they are voting for and are pretty determined to get in here and vote. One gentleman told me it was the first election he voted in. That’s great, especially for an off-year election.”

Gushue said he thinks people will be able to move on from the rancor of the election and work on the issues.

In spite of contentious campaigns and divisive issues, there was no shortage of humanity to go around Tuesday.

“It’s a very important election, not only for Virginians but for the country,” said Mary Ann Gaskins, a precinct volunteer at James River Elementary School in the 93rd District. But there was another point she kept emphasizing to describe Election Day. “People are so pleasant and friendly.”

People came together Tuesday, eager to share in the democratic process that affects us all.

“I’m proud to vote,” said Sanchia Johnson, who voted at James River. “It’s my right to vote, so I’m exercising my right to vote.”

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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