Turnout booming in Cheswold as candidates greet voters

CHESWOLD — The Cheswold Fire Hall was packed with voters Tuesday morning, requiring a police officer to direct traffic due to the sheer number of visitors.

Dozens of people stood outside the building awaiting their turns, flanked by candidates and their supporters.

The day was crisp but not too cold, a stark contrast from the blustery weather Monday or the rain that hit Delaware on Sunday.

Gov. John Carney, a Democrat seeking a second term, stopped by the fire hall around 10 a.m. to greet voters. He had already been to Cape Henlopen High School, where turnout, the governor observed, was “extraordinary.”

“The line wrapped around the building. It’s just probably four times what I’ve ever seen before,” he said, adding that’s likely a good sign for Democratic candidates.

About 161,000 people voted early by mail in Delaware, utilizing a law approved by legislators this year due to the pandemic. In 2016, the state saw a total of 442,000 ballots cast, roughly 95% of which were submitted in person.

Nearly everyone in attendance at the fire hall wore masks, something the governor said is an indication that Delawareans are concerned about coronavirus and are taking steps to protect themselves and others. Face coverings are recommended but not required to vote.

Some people used their masks to proclaim their allegiance to a particular candidate, while a few had Delaware-themed face coverings or masks that simply urged people to vote.

Lines were much shorter at East Dover Elementary School around 9 a.m., with a voter making his way through in less than 10 minutes. Poll workers inside cleaned off the machines after usage, and masks were again an omnipresent sight.

Also in the parking lot in Cheswold was Democratic state Senate candidate Jaci Hugg, who stood near a big sign proclaiming, “Delaware needs a Hugg.” She was accompanied by Sens. Trey Paradee and Bryan Townsend, neither of whom are on the ballot this year but who wanted to show support for their fellow Democrats and possible future colleagues.

Sen. Paradee is often seen with his 100-pound yellow lab, Teddy, and Tuesday was no exception. No stranger to campaigning by now, the 5-year-old dog waited patiently on the pavement alongside his master, occasionally receiving pets from passersby.

Both Sen. Paradee and Ms. Hugg marveled at the turnout, expressing optimism about what the high level of participation means for Democrats in Delaware and around the nation. Most of the candidates and volunteers at the fire hall Tuesday were Democrats.

While many people on primary day in September seemed to be angry, the energy Tuesday was much more positive, Ms. Hugg observed.

Republican Sen. Dave Lawson, Ms. Hugg’s opponent, was present, as well, thanking people for stopping by and doing their civic duty. At one point, Sen. Lawson took over traffic duties, directing cars in and out of the parking lots when the police officer stationed there took a break.

Sen. Lawson identified division as the biggest issue in this election, expressing frustration that people cannot come together as Americans.

“We’re not an enemy because we differ. You like chocolate ice cream; I like vanilla. Does that make us enemies?” he asked. “But it sure does today, and that’s wrong. That is wrong. We just have to sit down at the table. There’s nothing wrong with talking it out.”

Regardless of the outcome, he was feeling satisfied, believing he had done all he could to keep his seat.

Several candidates noted that campaigning was unusual this year due to COVID-19. The virus made it more difficult to connect with people face-to-face, Ms. Hugg said, although she was glad to be able to talk directly with some voters outside the fire hall Tuesday. She was waiting for a lull to cast her ballot, so she would not miss many attendees.

Also optimistic about what the future holds was Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat first elected in 2010, who is aiming for another term this year. Voters are largely unhappy with the state of the nation, he said, expressing hope that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden can restore unity to the country and successfully tackle the pandemic and resulting economic downturn.

Similar things are occurring in other states, he said, citing conversations he’s had with other senators and candidates.

The process here has been running smoothly, he observed. Still, the senator is concerned about potential ugliness that could arise from the presidential contest. Because of the unprecedented volume of ballots submitted by mail — 100 million according to the U.S. Elections Project — the outcome probably won’t be known for days, Sen. Coons pointed out.

“We should be patient, wait until every vote is counted. That’s how it works every cycle, despite what President (Donald) Trump has been saying,” he said.

He fears the president will prematurely declare victory Tuesday night, which he thought could lead to unrest and even violence around the nation. The president’s attacks on the United States’ electoral system have undermined faith in the process, dividing Americans, he said.

“(Tuesday), the results in Pennsylvania will look like Alabama,” he said. “By Thursday, Friday, it’ll look like Wisconsin.”

Pennsylvania is considered one of the key states in this election, potentially capable of swinging the ultimate outcome.

Polls close at 8 p.m.