Election Day Chesapeake, 2012

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by John Downs, Sr.

Early voters in Chesapeake on Election Day awoke to unseasonably cold temperatures and a late rising sun. Upon arrival at most of the polling places in the city, however, they were astonished to find unexpected long lines of fellow voters already snaked outside of the buildings and churches. Many of the queues were several hundred people long and some voters reported waits of an hour or more. This mass bombardment of enthusiastic and eager voters continued well into the late morning hours and in some cases past noon. Chesapeake’s General Registrar William “Al” Spradlin unofficially estimated that as many as 90% of the total registered voters in Chesapeake may have exercised their right to vote. Automated voting machines were nowhere to be seen and hand marked paper ballots were the order of the day. One election official explained that paper ballots were needed to legally maintain a paper trail for votes cast.

On this day, Chesapeake voters were asked to elect the next President and Vice President, a United States Senator, a United States Congressman, and also help render a decision on two constitutional amendments. At most polling places, a traditional Chesapeake sea of campaign signs welcomed each voter. Most were the political requisite combinations of red, white, and blue. Valiant poll workers bundled in heavy overcoats and scarves enthusiastically welcomed each voter with a pre-printed guide ballot and a sincere thank you for coming out.

As the stream of voters continued until closing, many veteran poll watchers opined that this may have been the largest turnout in Chesapeake history. Unofficial results show that Governor Mitt Romney etched out a narrow local victory in Chesapeake by approximately 1% despite a resounding victory for the President nationwide. Popular Congressman J. Randy Forbes withstood a credible challenge of City Council member Ella Ward but in the end won by a comfortable margin. In the other state-wide election, Republican George Allen lost out as Virginia elected Democrat Tim Kaine to fill the seat of out-going U.S. Senator Jim Webb. The two Virginia constitutional amendments breezed through by huge totals.

Local political parties always throw an after-election victory bash. The two galas were starkly contrasting. The Democrats chose the lobby of the Cedar Tree Inn off Old Greenbrier Road for their celebration. Candidate banners, signs, and decorations were nowhere to be seen. Small screen televisions dotted several tables around the sprawling lobby and small back rooms. Pizza and wings was the order of the day for refreshment. While the crowd was not overwhelmingly large, the enthusiasm for their candidates, especially President Obama, was evident. Willie L. Horton, a retired convenience store owner, sported a unique black beret with the name Obama embroidered across the front. “I picked it up in Denver at the 2008 national convention,” he explained proudly, “I think it’s a real collector’s item and I wear it with pride.”

Shortly after 9 pm, Congressional candidate Ella Ward arrived and was warmly welcomed with applause and hugs. Despite her loss, Ms. Ward vowed to continue to be an active leader in the community and continue in her role as a member of the Chesapeake City Council. As the night wore on, the festive atmosphere turned to jubilation as President Obama and Tim Kaine pulled out victories.

Several miles away, the Republicans and a number of independents gathered at the Greenbrier Country Club. Red, white, and blue festoons hung from railings and walls. Low, twinkling lights provided an intimate yet classy atmosphere. Several large screen televisions prominently displayed election results with a state of the art connection showing real time returns. Congressman Randy Forbes and his wife Shirley were the perfect hosts, readily available for handshakes and pats on the back. Forbes thanked his supporters sincerely for his victory. He will return to Washington with positions on several influential committees including the important Armed Services Committee. Forbes was first elected to congress in 2001.He has aggressively defended the area’s military bases against congressional budget cutting. “I consider our national defense as one of my top priorities,” Forbes has remarked on numerous occasions. The Forbes campaign raised over $1 million in contributions while his challenger, City Councilwoman Ella Ward, raised about $68,000.

In the early evening hours, there was an air of cautious optimism throughout the crowd of several hundred at the Greenbrier Country Club. Despite Congressman Forbes’ 50,000 vote victory margin, the atmosphere inside began to chill as results began to trickle in from the other contests. By 10 pm, the final verdict was more than evident and most attendees decided it was time to go home.

The dinner-interrupting phone calls, the mailboxes stuffed with camping literature and the incessant television and radio ads are finally over and most Americans are ready to get back to normal. As one political observed astutely noted, however, “The end of one political campaign is merely the beginning of the next one.”

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