Voters head to the polls early and en masse

DOVER — A record number of absentee ballots being cast amid the COVID-19 pandemic did not appear to stop large waves of voters going to the polls in person Tuesday morning, as lines stretched out at many voting sites around Dover when they opened at 7.

Voters appeared to have Election Day fever at W. Reily Brown Elementary School, the Dover Elks Lodge and especially at the Cheswold Volunteer Fire Co., where a line stretched for a quarter-mile down the sidewalk just after the polls opened.

The lines appeared to be moving rapidly as around 10 a.m. the crowds looked much thinner at the polling places.

Cheswold always features a greater challenge than other polling places as most voters have to park and then walk across Del. 42 in order to vote at the fire station. That tends to cause traffic headaches and backups, which took place again this morning.

Observers reported waiting anywhere from 10 minutes in Dover to an hour to vote in Smyrna late morning and up to 90 minutes at Shields Elementary School in Lewes.

Despite the temperature being just 42 degrees at 6 this morning, Howard Mesick wasn’t stopped from being the first in a line that stretched completely around the east side parking lot at W. Reily Brown Elementary.

“I just basically wanted to get in and get out and get my vote in,” Mr. Mesick said. “This is a pretty important election. It would be nice if people treated it like this every Election Day. I kind of figured we were going to have long lines anyway (despite the absentee voting).”

Corazon Sudler arrived at W. Reily Brown at 5 in the morning and waited in her car until around 6.

“I think this is an important election, that’s why we were here so early,” Ms. Sudler said.

Voters wrap around Lulu Ross Elementary School in Milford around 8:40 a.m. Tuesday, when the crowd estimate was about 400 people, with 95% of those in line wearing face coverings. Per state guidance, masks are recommended but not required to vote. (Special to the Delaware State News/Paige Deiner)

Anna Owens was in front of the school representing Levy Court Commissioner George “Jody” Sweeney. She said she has worked many elections in the past but never remembered such a large turnout, especially so early in the morning.

“I was surprised because I drove around the parking lot trying to find a spot to park because I knew I was going to be here for a couple of hours, and I was like, ‘Wow! No parking spaces!’” Ms. Owens said.

Most of the voters appeared to be following COVID-19 safety protocols, such as social distancing and wearing face masks. Some in line improvised and were sitting on empty milk cartons, while three people brought lawnchairs to W. Reily Brown Elementary.

Up in Cheswold, Robert Mitchell arrived and saw the long line that he was going to have to wait through in order to vote.

“I’m not sure I expected a line this long, but hey, this is an important election, and it’s important that we as Americans use our right to vote,” he said, “so it’s actually kind of refreshing to see this much interest in an election.”

Around 8:40 a.m., an estimated 400 people, 95% wearing face coverings, wrapped around Lulu Ross Elementary School in Milford waiting to vote. Face coverings are recommended, but not required to vote at polls, per state guidelines.

One person who voted at Shields Elementary School in Lewes reported a 55-minute wait at 7. By 11:30 a.m., the line to vote at Shields had exceeded the parking lot and flowed across Savannah Road toward the entrance of the Drake Knoll neighborhood.

Voters wait in line for the Shields Elementary School polling location on Savannah Road in Lewes. The school is the building in the background.

Polls are open in Delaware until 8 p.m.

Voters line up early to vote at W. Reily Brown Elementary School in Dover on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)