By Caitlin Doermer, Andy Soergel and Emily Leventhal

Voters turned out in large numbers in Buena Vista, where more than 1,000 people cast ballots by 1 p.m. Tuesday, and lines were long at polling places in Lexington, Rockbridge County and across Virginia.

The Associated Press reported that state election officials said statewide turnout would likely meet or exceed the 2008 presidential election, and that long lines were causing waits of from one to up to four hours.

Buena Vista, a key city that could show results in line with the national results, saw lines of voters. Photo by Caitlin Doermer.

In a few instances in Lexington and Rockbridge County, voters had problems with operating the touch screens that displayed ballots with several races and issues.

“The turnout has been the best in my 12 years on the electoral board,” said Jim Bradford, chairman of the Buena Vista Electoral Board. “We’re expecting the largest turnout we’ve ever had.”

Arlene Garrett, Buena Vista’s registrar, said this election is unlike anything she has seen in 30 years. Lines wrapped down the hallways and spilled out the front doors of the Buena Vista Municipal Building.

The crowd included students from Southern Virginia University, a private school with a student population that is 95 percent Mormon. Many said they were supporting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is also a Mormon.

Men dressed in work clothes also lined up alongside mothers who brought small children with them. Buena Vista officials said they spoke to a 90-year-old woman who had recently registered to vote for the first time.

Lexington residents wait in line at the Piovano Building to vote this afternoon. Photo by Emily Leventhal.

Bradford said the city usually receives no more than 10 or 12 absentee ballots in an election, but this year set a new record with 72.

In Lexington, lines stretched out the door of the Piovano Building as city residents waited to cast their ballots in what Chief Officer of Election Morris Trimmer described as one of the largest turnouts in recent elections. The turnout was almost 74 percent in Lexington in 2008.

“2008 was very busy.  (Today) is extremely busy  … We’ve had a line all day,” said Trimmer.

Many residents said they waited in 40-degree temperatures for 20 minutes before making it to the voting machines to choose between President Barack Obama and Romney on the national stage and between Mayor Mimi Elrod and challenger Mary Harvey-Halseth, a city council member, along with three positions on city council.

Also, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen were running for U.S. Senate, and Democrat Andy Schmookler and Republican incumbent Bob Goodlatte were vying for the 6th Congressional District seat.

Elrod and other city council members hugged and shook hands with voters as they waited in line outside the Piovano Building.

City Councilman George Pryde said traffic congestion and technical difficulties slowed voting early this morning.

Some people who gathered at Rockbridge County High School, one of 17 county precincts, complained about confusion with the computerized ballot in the morning.

Volunteers tried to help, but citizens said the efforts might have made things worse. Vicki Goodhart, a voter, said the voting process was different than previous years.

“I kept expecting (the presidential voting screen) to come up, but it had already passed me apparently,” she said.

Three other voters complained of the same issue within the same hour of each other.

Marilyn Earhart, Rockbridge County registrar, said there was nothing wrong with the voting machines. She said the ballots were “congested” with several races and issues, which may have confused people.

The new voter ID law is in action as voters prepare to receive their ballots. Photo by Scott Harrison.

“Some voters aren’t paying attention to instructions,” Earhart said. “In one instance a voter refused instructions and proceeded to vote anyway and then complained when the ballot went wrong.”

Rockbridge County Chief of Election Staff Arlezer Quiller refused to comment on both the number of citizens that had voted and the complaints about the computerized ballot.

Cold weather and long lines did not dampen the spirits of the crowd.  Washington and Lee University junior Christina Lowry voted in her first presidential election today and noted the level of excitement on campus.

“W&L students are definitely involved … My friend was shaking last night.  He was so excited to vote,” she said.

Pryde agreed. “We’re getting more and more younger people to turn out … We have signed up 1,000 more voters here in Lexington than we had four years ago, and I think that’s great.  I believe a good many of them are younger folks who are first time voters,” he said.

With this election expected to be one of the closest in recent memory, Pryde said he believes every vote could make a difference.

“We can’t make the country work the way we want it to if we don’t exercise our freedom of choice,” he said. “I think all of the races today will be very close.”

Micah Fleet, Logan Nardo, Mickey Gorman and Betsy Cribb also contributed to this story.

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