Updated: Del. voters come out in droves, face long lines

Lines to vote in the Milford area remained long Tuesday afternoon, even at the Memorial Volunteer Fire Company in tiny Argo Corners.

There, voters from locales like Milford, Slaughter Beach and Milton waited on a line that spanned the entire length of the firehouse.

“I’m a native and I’ve never seen it like this,” said Slaughter Beach resident Rebecca Craft. “I don’t usually have to wait five minutes.”

“My assumption is it’s just a lot of people,” she said.

Milford resident Joseph Zammetti said he had voted at the building in numerous elections and that this was the first time the queue had ever been long enough to breach the building’s threshold.

“The corona(virus), health care and schools,” were priorities for him. Mr. Zammetti said he’d “like to see a better, more consistent approach to the virus and to health care generally.”

Ms. Craft agreed, and she saw the government’s involvement with health care as an important element in making that happen.

“The (Affordable Care Act) is not perfect, but it needs to be in place,” she said.

Milton resident Kelly Loida agreed that COVID-19 needed to be handled differently.

“I honestly don’t think it would be this bad if Trump did something about it beforehand,” she said.

High turnout

Milford resident Jenevieve Worley, who works in the communications department for the Delaware House Democrats, and her husband Keegan Worley spoke with their state representative, Republican Bryan Shupe while they waited in line.

“I’m really excited to see a Delawarean, Joe Biden, on top of the ticket,” Ms. Worley said. “I think that’s really exciting and why we’re seeing so many people turn out today.”

She was happy to see the high voter turnout.

“Even though it’s frustrating to wait two hours in line, I’m glad so many people are willing to do it,” Ms. Worley said.

Mr. Worley was excited to see greater political engagement and hoped the election would bring change.

“I think this year especially people are seeing that you’re not just voting for the president,” he said. “You’re voting for the secretary of education, you’re voting for the secretary of state, you’re voting for all these other positions that fall underneath the president.”

Around lunch time, voters walking out of Lulu Ross Elementary School in Milford reported having waited between an hour and 90 minutes to cast their ballots.

Mail-in ballots

“I decided to vote in person today because you hear about how all the mail-in voters have their ballots burned and stuff,” said Stevenson University junior Ryan Frost. “Even though it actually took me an hour and thirty minutes to vote today, I still decided I wanted to do it in person.”

This was nothing like his experience voting in 2016.

“I showed up, I walked in and I voted,” he said. “It was like five minutes or less.”

Timothy Ross made it out to vote at Lulu Ross for a different reason.

“I just like the experience of actually being here and standing on line,” he said. “I enjoy that because it kind of reminds me of what’s necessary to be able to vote.”

Unity and the future

Many voters called for a greater sense of national unity.

“I’d like for people to become less partisan… (and) actually be able to talk to each other,” Mr. Frost said.

“On social media people are like, ‘If you support this guy, don’t ever talk to me again.’ I don’t support Trump personally, but I feel it’s so crazy how as a country we’ve grown so far apart from each other,” he said. “I wish we could unite.”

Milford’s Norma Jean Stutzman also said she wanted to see, “unity and bringing the parties back together as one country.”

She brought her two kids, 10-year-old Alex and 8-year-old Ellianna, to watch her vote.

It’s “to teach them their civic duties they have to look forward to as Americans,” she said.

Nicholas Ferri was very focused on the prospects for the nation’s younger generations.

“I’d like to see more of a constructive future for the generations and opportunities to expand for them,” he said. “Employment is one of the biggest issues and you don’t hear a lot of politicians talking about it.

“Delaware used to have Chrysler, Dupont, General Motors and a young family could work there and make a living wage. It’s all gone.

“We need to bring it back by voting for someone who would at least consider that,” he said. “Even though it hasn’t been brought to light, I think it’s very important.”

Mr. Ross sees controlling COVID-19 and economic well-being as inherently related.

“I would like to see them actually come up with a cure for COVID and for the economy to get stronger and to bring more respect and dignity back to the White House,” Mr. Ross said.

He has no faith in the current president’s ability or desire to do that.

“We’ve given four years to this president and the country is greatly divided racially right now. The COVID situation is an absolute mess,” he said. “Those are primary issues for me, and I think it’s time we try a new direction.”

Protests, rioting and looting

Security was a primary concern for Ms. Stutzman.

“I’d like to see the rioting stop,” she said.

Ms. Worley believed that some sort of unrest was inevitable.

“It’s going to happen in the cities no matter who wins, and it could go on for weeks if we don’t know who wins,” she said, “but out here in Sussex County it’s not something that we really need to worry about.”

Both Ms. Craft and Mr. Zammetti noted the difference between protest and civil unrest

“We have a legal right to protest. We don’t have a legal right to go out and bash people or destroy businesses,” Mr. Zammetti said.

“Protest is constitutionally permissible, and I think the majority of what we see is legitimate protest,” Ms. Craft said. “Looters and rioters are totally different.”

She did not want to disclose which candidate she planned to vote for, but she was willing to share the values she believed her vote would support.

“I’m voting for my grandkids’ and great-grandkids’ futures,” she said. “I’m voting for their health, I’m voting for their environment, I’m voting for their constitutional rights.”

Middletown voting brisk

When Robin Biek first arrived at Bunker Hill Elementary School in Middletown to cast her vote early Tuesday, the line wrapped around the building and was about a two-hour wait.

The line still snaked around the length of the school hours later, but she came back with a chair.

“I haven’t missed one presidential election,” she said, noting it was a slew of issues that brought her out Tuesday. She said that, being raised Catholic, abortion was a big one. “I’m ready to take this country back.”

She can hear her mother’s voice in her head telling her to do her civic duty, she noted, as she waited in line.

Like her mother instilled her civic duty in her, she did so for her children. Her son was a first-time voter this year.

“Every vote counts. Maybe one won’t make a difference, but don’t complain if you won’t do something about it,” she said. She hypothesized that this election might be two generations, canceling each other out.

“I think it’s great,” she said of the turnout. “It should be like this every time.”

Workers for the Biden campaign set up circles for social distancing for an election night rally for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at the Chase Center parking lot in downtown Wilmington on Tuesday morning. (Special to the State News/Butch Comegys)

Donna Langley always brought her children with her, even when they were little, to the polls. She was with her son, Nico, as they waited through the lines Tuesday.

Adult Nico only has vague recollections of going to vote with her when he only hazily understood the importance of casting a ballot, but this year is different.

“Now that I know and am in a position to do something about it — even though it’s cold — I’m doing something I need to do,” he said.

Ms. Langley said that it was the “state of the United States” that brought her out to vote.

“The country seems so divided right now. I want all of that to stop,” she said. “People are out here pouring gasoline on it.”

“Where we stand, there’s dividedness,” Nico agreed. “Our current president is not trying to stop that. It’s fueling the fire.”

The two had been in line for about an hour, but Ms. Langley was no stranger to the long queues. She recalled long lines in Atlanta. She knew of family members voting in Wilmington facing longer wait times. In fact, she could only remember one presidential election where she walked “in and out.”

Despite the long lines, she, too, cited the importance of civic duty, noting that, as a Black person, people fought for the right to vote.

Four years ago, when Don and Fran Hylinksi cast their ballots in the presidential election, there were maybe 15 people in front of them.

Obviously, that wasn’t the case Tuesday. But as they walked to the back of the line across the length of Bunker Hill, they weren’t deterred.

“We want to make sure we place our votes, our votes are counted, and our voices are heard,” Ms. Hylinski said.

She said it felt like common courtesy and that decency was gone. She was casting her ballot in favor of those qualities.

“We’re so divided. People don’t know how to treat each other,” Mr. Hylinski said.

“We have to hope whoever gets elected, people accept it,” she said. “Once the results are in, they’re in. I hope people come to grips with that.”

Michele and Jack Wilson came at 7 a.m., then at 10. Finally, at 11:30, they figured they’d take their chances in line. They’d been waiting for about a half-hour as the line crept up. They vote in everything — local races, school board — and they’d never seen it quite like this.

“It’s the most positive (turnout) I’ve ever seen,” Ms. Wilson said. “It’s everywhere, not just here. Everyone just wants to be heard.”

They were casting their ballots in favor of unity, a change in the environment and better control of health care in the country.

“It’s our responsibility. Everyone should vote,” Mr. Wilson added, “regardless of party.”

Milford voters queue up early, share hopes for country
When the polls opened Tuesday morning, the line to vote at Lulu Ross Elementary School in Milford snaked out of the parking lot and on to Southeast Third Street.

Voters queued up at Lulu Russ Elementary School in Milford at about 7 a.m. Tuesday morning. (Delaware State News/Noah Zucker)

The polls there didn’t open until 7, but Joan Spurio said she queued up at 6:10. She was the ninth person in line to vote.

“Once the doors opened, it wasn’t long,” she said of her wait time.

Ms. Spurio said disunity is the biggest problem facing the country.

“I think we need to be one nation,” she said, “not Democrats and Republicans.”

Jon Ohman, a safety consultant with the Delaware Department of Labor, was also voting at Lulu Ross. He agreed.

“We’ve got a very divided country right now,” Mr. Ohman said. “We need to get back together. We need to work hard to do it. Voting is the only way to do it.”

He voted for former Vice President Joe Biden in search of what he called “wholesale change.”

Rory Lewis voted next door at Mispillion Elementary School before rushing off to work. Like Mr. Ohman and Ms. Spurio, he was looking for change.

“I think America’s great,” Mr. Lewis said. “We can show more love for each other.”

“I ain’t saying who I’m voting for,” he said, “but he shows more empathy than the other guy.”

Mr. Lewis highlighted racial tension as a big problem for the nation.

“With economics, my money didn’t change,” he said. “But all the racial tension, with every race, I’ve got Black friends that are acting crazy, and I’ve got White friends that are acting crazy.”

A sign directs voters to the polling location at Milford High School. (Delaware State News/Noah Zucker)

Joseph Fuller, who was voting at Milford High School on the other side of town, was more focused on the economy as it related to the pandemic.

“I’d like to find a vaccine for the pandemic, so we can get people back to work and get the economy moving again,” he said.

Jo Ann Matthews, who works sterilizing medical equipment at Bayhealth, Sussex Campus, in Milford, was also voting at Milford High. She said she feels similarly.

“I worked the whole time during this COVID thing, and I didn’t see no more money in my pocket at all,” she said.

Ms. Matthews also put a premium on equality.

“We should treat everybody the same, no matter what your nation is, what your religion is,” she said.

“I voted for Joe Biden,” Ms. Matthews said. “He’s a good friend of the family.”

She said the former vice president went to school with her sister-in-law.

“It’s nice to have a friend like that we can count on,” she added. “I think he’s for us, even though Trump is for us, too.”

Milfordians who chose to vote in person rather than by mail said they did so for a number of reasons.

“I always use my own legs to do things instead of somebody else’s,” Mr. Ohman said.

Mr. Lewis said he voted in person out of habit.

“You don’t have to wait that long,” he said. “This is Delaware.”

Mr. Fuller said he had “heard a lot of things about mail-in ballots, and I’d prefer to do it in person anyway.”

Ms. Matthews said she came to the polls in hopes of seeing the candidates and other locals.

“It was a very long line this morning when I got here, so it’s nice to see everyone’s here voting,” she said.

She was not particularly worried about the possibility of large-scale protests or civil unrest.

“It’s no more than the protests we had in the early months of COVID,” she said. “Everybody has their right to free speech.”

Mr. Ohman, on the other hand, saw the possibility as a sign of the nation’s disunity.

“I hate it,” he said. “That’s the division we have to change.”

Before getting into his car, Mr. Lewis had some succinct advice for the nation.

“America, be safe,” he said.