Northern Virginia was at the center of the nation’s electoral process this Tuesday, and Mason’s Arlington campus was right there with it. Mason Arlington’s Original Building was the official polling location of those living in Virginia Square, Arlington’s Precinct #040, and many Arlington residents were exercising their right to vote on Mason’s grounds.
“We had a very strong turnout this morning,” noted Cheryl, the Assistant Election Officer at Precinct #040, who requested that her last name not be printed. “Over 1,100 people had voted in this precinct alone by about lunchtime. We were very excited by the turnout.”
Outside the polling place, the atmosphere was upbeat on both sides, despite the rainy weather. Large numbers of volunteers for both the Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin tickets were busily handing out sample ballots and making last-minute pitches for their candidates. The Democratic Party’s volunteers looked cheerful and confident as they encouraged those passing by to vote for Barack Obama. Those advocating for the Republican candidates handed out “Joe” stickers, a reference to John McCain supporter Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher, also known as “Joe the Plumber,” McCain’s symbolic representation of an aspiring middle-class American.
As with polling locations throughout the region and the country, election officials in Arlington expected a large turnout. “We were expecting the turnout to be substantial, and we think we handled it well,” said Kaye Anne Helmich, the Chief Election Officer for the precinct, and a 1980 graduate of Mason. “We expected the biggest rush to be in the morning, before work, and we were right. We moved them along quickly though, and processed the lines by 10:00.”
Asked about the increased number of younger voters in this election, she said it was a byproduct of the increasing population in the county. “Well, younger people have been getting more interested in politics over the past four years, I’d say, since more high-rises have been built in Arlington,” Helmich said. “The more people that move here, the more young people that seem to become interested in politics.”
Second-year Mason Law School student George Parker was more intrigued by the national media’s coverage of an election in Virginia. “I voted in the 2004 election as well,” he stated, “But this is just so much different. There were two massive news crews reporting from the polling place when I voted. It’s unreal, to see an election possibly decided by Virginia.”
As Helmich summed it up: “I worked the polls in 2004 as well. This election… you can’t compare this election to 2004. They’re just too different.”