Voters turned out early and in force Tuesday on both sides of the Chattahoochee River, helping spread out election crowds and keeping lines relatively short as the day wore on.
"It was a lot busier this morning than in the past election, but I don't ever remember there being a slowdown like this in the afternoon," Sharon Ware, polling manager at the Blackmon Road Middle School precinct, said about mid-afternoon. Approximately 600 voters had moved through the lines there by that time.
Volunteers at several voting precincts in Columbus reported 50 or more voters waiting for them in the dark to open their doors at least an hour before the official poll starts polls opened.
Matrid Perdue, chief inspector at the Central Activities Center precinct in Phenix City, estimated more than 100 were in line as her polls precinct opened at 8 a.m. EST.
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"They were from the front door all the way down the sidewalk to the street," she said.
There were no problems, Perdue said, with nearly 1,800 votes being cast at the precinct by about 4 p.m. She predicted the total there might reach 2,200 before the day was done.
"We have had no disgruntlements," she said. "Everyone's been very, very nice. No one has complained. No one has fussed."
Part of the heavy morning turnout in Phenix City may have been caused by fact that because Alabama does not have advance voting like Georgia. Alabama also still uses paper ballots that are tallied electronically by voting boxes.
Columbus election officials said last week that more than 38,000 voters in the city had cast votes early. The city's voting system is completely computerized.
History either way
Mac Jones of Phenix City, after casting votes voting with his wife, Rosie, said he expected lines to be long there. He was pleasantly surprised at the smooth flow despite the crowds coming and going around him.
"Perhaps it is Barack; everybody's excited about that," Jones said of the enthusiastic turnout for an election that pitted Barack Obama, the nation's first black major party presidential candidate, against John McCain, whose running mate, Sarah Palin, was vying Tuesday to be the country's first female vice president. "It's going to be history one way or the other."
One of the largest opening crowds appeared to be at Rothschild Middle School. When poll manager Sandy Dowdell drove up to the school at 5:30 a.m., he was surprised to see about 50 people standing in line. Some of them brought folding chairs and blankets.
By the time the precinct opened at 7 a.m., there were about 250 in line, he said.
From 7-10:30 a.m. things were very the precinct was busy, he said. But election planners had many tools an answer to ease the crunch.
"People were saying how orderly and organized it was," Dowdell said. "There were a lot of first-time voters. I know there were three 18-year-olds voting for the first time. Their mothers brought them."
Because the voter turnout was predicted to be huge this year, each precinct set up queue lines similar to those at amusement parks.
Each precinct also had "greeters" who would ask if the person voters whether they are a first-time voter and if whether they are at the right precinct.
"We didn't want people to wait in line that long and find out that they were at the wrong place," Dowdell said.
His sister, Sherrell Dowdell, was the greeter at Rothschild.
"The energy has been great," she said. "Everyone has been cordial and patient."
One woman made her laugh.
"She wanted to know where the big line was," Dowdell said. "She told me she wanted to be in the middle of all the excitement. She was disappointed."
But she got through the voting process very quickly.
Sherrell Dowdell was also was impressed by the number of children who accompanied their parents to the precinct.
"A lot of these kids had mock voting at their school," she said. "The kids were excited about the process. I've been amazed at the number of young people voting. It's been so exciting."
Mary Bowers, polling manager at the North Highland Assembly of God precinct, said she sensed people moving through her lines were more serious about their voting duty this year. That kept things running without a hitch, despite initial 60- to 90-minute waits early in the day. By mid-afternoon, nearly 900 had voted.
"There's been cooperation from our workers and the voters," she said of the process. "Everybody's been very nice. We had somebody out there greeting them and talking to them, handing out sample ballots and letting them look at it beforehand."
There also was the element of togetherness in Tuesday's turnout, with mothers and fathers heading to the polls with their children as a family unit.
Vanessa Green exited left the Brewer Elementary School precinct with her sisters Barbara Scott and Andrea Stewart. But There also was a special voter among them — Green's 18-year-old son, D.J. Green, who was participating in his first election. The reason, he said simply: "Obama."
Green said it was important that her son take part in American democracy the first chance he got.
"People have fought for us to vote, and, when they turn 18, they should get out and vote," she said. "It's just the right thing to do."
There also was the matter of a higher power intervening Tuesday to keep the election cogs moving. Higher power
Poll manager Glenn White got to St. John AME Church on Steam Mill Road around 6 a.m. and found four people waiting in line.
About 40 minutes later, the power went out in the neighborhood.
He got his team together and were discussing discussed what to do.
Pastor Debora Grant was getting got ready to bring tables from inside the church's fellowship hall outside so people could start the process of voting.
A few seconds before the precinct was due to open, the power came back on.
A higher power must have been at work, both White and Grant said.
Like at Rothschild, voting was heavy from 7-10:30 a.m. at St. John, White said. Voters who came at mid-afternoon were able to go in went ain nd out pretty quickly.
"I've seen a lot of young kids voting," White said. "More than I've seen. I'm excited about this election myself."
Outside, Grant had set up a table with coffee, tea, juice, water and snacks for voters and poll workers. If people had money, they paid; if they didn't, she gave them what they wanted.
"We wanted provide something for the people who couldn't get out of line," Grant said. "I just wanted to make sure that everyone was comfortable. They got a little love from St. John."
She brought out folding chairs for people to sit and wait. She even made sure she had a wheelchair available.
On the side of the church, another group of parishioners had set up a hot dog and fish sandwich stand, mostly for the poll workers, she said.
Tuesday night, there was a Watch Night service, so people could "pray for the country, our leaders, our community and most of all, pray for peace."