Huddled against the cold and wind, more than 350 people waiting to vote were wrapped about St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Bear Tuesday as the bells sounded 8 a.m.
Some voters had arrived shortly after 5 a.m. to wait in their vehicles, and the line began to form about 6:15 a.m.
Longtime voters at that polling place said they had never seen a turnout like this, even during the rancorous 2016 election that pitted Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton.
The same scene was repeated all over the state, voters said. A photo of St. Georges Technical High School showed the voting line stretching into the street there.
“I can see it from my desk and I’m waiting for the line to go down,” said David McGowan, who lives nearby and has been working from home since the COVID-19 pandemic started. “We’re not in a highly populated area here, so I can’t imagine what it’s like at other places.”
McGowan said his neighbor needed an hour and a half to vote. He said he’s never waited more than five or 10 minutes to vote in a presidential election, and will try his luck later in the morning.
Many wondered if there would be fewer in-person voters because 133,000 remote ballots — absentee and vote by mail — had been cast by Friday morning. That was 100,000 more than the votes cast that way in 2016.
But voters who didn’t want to vote that way, or didn’t trust that their ballots would be counted, jammed the polls Tuesday. The lines were lengthened because state rules require voting stations to be cleaned after each voter.
Rosalee Rau, who has been a poll worker at that polling place when it was at the DelDot offices across the street, said the crowd of voters — every single one wearing a face mask — was unprecedented.
“I think people are disappointed with the way the country is headed,” she said. “I’m thinking that if Biden is elected, we’ll have a socialist country, and that’s a real concern.”
People have been misled by the media, she said.
“We’ve had four years that have been good years,” she said. “Salaries have gone up. Black persons have had more privileges and more benefits under Trump’s presidency than the previous eight years before him. I think this is evident from even the rappers that are going for him.”
That last comment drew a bunch of startled stares from the black voters surrounding her. A woman behind Rau looked puzzled, then amazed and then started laughing, backing up to distance herself from Rau.
Michele Williams of Newark said she was stunned to see so many people in line at her voting place.
She was there to vote for Biden “because he’s for the working people, he supports the company my husband works for and I’m just proud that he’s going to get in there and take over for the lousy job that Trump’s doing.”
If Biden wins, she doesn’t expect all the national chaos to be over.
“I think there’s some challenges ahead because the country’s in such an awful state right now,” she said. “It’s going to take a lot of work for whoever gets in there. I’m just hoping that Biden can get in there and make the difference that we need to see in this country.”
Tony and Virginia Benson also were at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to vote for Biden. He thought so many people came out to vote because the country is so divided and struggling more with pure issues of democracy than it has in his lifetime.
“He’s going to unite our country, and he’s going to be a president for the United States,” Tony Benson said, “not for me, not for blue or red, but for the entire country. And he has a heart for the people.”
Virginia Benson said the country needs leadership.
“And I pray that this will be our opportunity to save the democracy, because we have a president who is incompetent, and basically thinking about himself and his family at the expense of democracy,” she said.
Delaware polls close at 8 p.m.
Staff writer Daniel Larlham Jr. contributed to this report.