“The polls are now closed,” bellowed Hornsby Middle School polling station chief elections officer Mike Tomczak at the stroke of 7 p.m. — the last voter trickled into the precinct at 6:58 p.m.
Within minutes Tomczak and his team of election officers were counting ballots and calling in vote totals to the James City County General Registrar’s Office.
Huddled near the precinct’s exit door, Tomczak spoke loudly into his cellphone. Race by race, he told the registrar’s office how the precinct had lent its voice.
Voters went to polling stations across Greater Williamsburg on Tuesday in droves. Elections officials said absentee and in-person voting turnout was near presidential race levels, unusual in a midterm election cycle.
Starting well before the 6 a.m. opening of the polls, voters meandered into line for the moment an elections official would unlock the doors and step outside to say the words: the polls are now open.
Voters came to the polls individually and en masse. By 3 p.m., nearly 56 percent of all eligible voters in James City County had cast a ballot, including absentee ballots, according to James City County General Registrar Dianna Moorman.
For James City County resident Stacey Felipe, casting a vote is a basic democratic right. That’s something she hopes to teach her son Kekoa before he is of voting age as she brought him to the Warhill High School polling station Tuesday afternoon.
“I want him to see the process,” Felipe said. “I didn’t have that growing up, so it seemed like this scary thing of coming, registering, voting. I wanted him to see how easy it is.”
Felipe turned to her son and asked him if he thought it’d make it easier for him when he was of voting age. He smiled and shrugged back at her.
Beyond the democratic privilege of voting, Anthony Brooks, 36 of James City County, said he came to the polls because of health care.
He said he buys his health insurance on the marketplace and he wants coverage to be easier and cheaper to get.
“It should be easier to get. That’s not how it is always,” Brooks said. “You got to pay to what you go to, as well as hospital visits and all that. There still has to be something that needs to be done.”
If he hadn’t voted, Brooks said he would have felt he was letting everyone who lives in James City County down.
But not all voters cast their ballots in person, Moorman said. The county had the third highest number of absentee voters in Hampton Roads, with 2,301 mail-in absentee ballots and 2,819 in-person ballots cast.
Moorman said turnout had not been at presidential election levels, but strong nonetheless.
At the Williamsburg Community Building precinct in the city, election officer Cathie Allport said the polling station had taken in more voters than expected as of noon Tuesday — nearly 1,700 voters before lunchtime.
“It has been very busy and everyone seems to be enthusiastic,” Allport said.
At polling stations from Waller Mill Elementary to Hornsby Middle School and Warhill High School, political party representatives handed out pink or blue sample ballots for voters as they walked to the polls.
Voters took the party-line ballots or refused them before walking to the polling station and the poll booths.
Terry Martin, a voter at Norge, said he came to vote because he felt the country was too divided.
“We’ve been divided in every way possible and we need to try to get back to the principals of our founding,” Martin said. “Today the effort has been to divide us racially, sexually, economically, every way possible, and we need to unite … We are in an international world today and we need to unite to pursue the greatness of this country.”
Despite politically divisive times, party members treated each other with the sort of cordiality given to old friends. Many of the party members work the same polls year after year.
“I’ve been doing this pretty regularly and I think out of 12 colleagues on the other side only one was grumpy and the rest were really nice,” Norge Republican poll worker Fred Poorbaugh said.
“We are celebrating a wonderful privilege of electing our leaders, and in most places in the world they can’t do that.”
Amelia Heymann contributed reporting for this story.