Huge queues have formed outside polling stations in the US state of Virginia as residents took advantage of the first day of in-person voting in the presidential election, with suggestions some had been spooked by Donald Trump's repeated attacks on postal ballots.
In Fairfax County some voters had to wait more than four hours to cast their ballot in this year's US election, with the process appearing to take longer in part due to the social distancing rules put in place to ensure safety.
Similar reports of queues emerged from elsewhere in the state including Richmond, Henrico County and Arlington. Half a dozen of America’s 50 states have now started in person-voting for the November 3 election.
The long lines led to speculation that voters were especially enthusiastic to back the candidates in this election cycle or that President Trump's regular critiques of mail-in voting had bred suspicion of that process, though the significance was unclear.
Election officials, academics and even leading figures in the Democratic and Republican campaigns have said this year’s voting could be unlike any other on account of Covid-19, with vast increases in postal voting expected.
Massive line of voters in Fairfax, Virginia, on the FIRST DAY of in-person early voting. Some voters say they showed up because they lost faith in USPS to deliver ballots. Officials tell CNN they've never seen anything like this on Day One. pic.twitter.com/uFDSfMINWX— Marshall Cohen (@MarshallCohen) September 18, 2020
It also means more people are expected to vote early. Election day itself is still more than six weeks away and Mr Trump and Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, are yet to hold any of their three head-to-head debates.
One part of Virginia which saw some of the longest queues was Fairfax. Outside the Fairfax Government Center the lines were unprecedented and made headlines.
Voter Jeff Milstein, 65, told The Telegraph: “I just turned up and they said it’s going to be four-and-a-half hours. A guy who was here at 8am, it took over four hours for him to vote.
“We’re all passionate. It’s better than doing a mail-in ballot, you can get your ballot scanned.
“I thought I’d get it done on day one but I’m going to come back another day. There’s not a lot of social distancing. You can’t police it with the line so long.”
On the first day of early voting, lines at the Fairfax County Government Center are out the door (but don’t worry, there are many more days left to vote early and more locations will open in October). #Election2020 #voteearly #vote2020 #vote pic.twitter.com/OW42IOzJXP— Fairfax County Votes (@fairfaxvotes) September 18, 2020
Hillary Clinton won Fairfax County, which has a population of more that one million, by 35 percentage points in 2016. That suggested the queues could indicate high levels of enthusiasm among Democrats.
Before polls opened at the Fairfax Government Center at 8am around 300 people were already lined up waiting to vote.
Gary Scott, the Fairfax General Registrar, told The Telegraph: “A lot of people who requested ballots by mail decided to turn up in person as well.
“They say they didn’t get their ballot in the mail, and we’re telling them ‘We haven’t mailed them yet’. They’re being mailed out today.
“There’s a way to have them vote today by signing affirmations but it takes time.”
Voters were being allowed into the building in small numbers to a voting room that was sanitised between groups. Due to the flood of voters a second room was being opened, an election official said.
A Republican precinct captain, manning a stand full of Trump merchandise, said: “We’ve given away so many bumper stickers and sample ballots. This I’ve never seen, it’s crazier than usual.
“I sent postcards to everyone telling them to vote early because anything can happen, you can break a leg. But I didn’t mean everyone come on the first day.”
Ken Lee, 48, a locksmith wearing a 'Make American Great Again' hat and Trump t-shirt, said: “I’ve been here an hour and I’m staying. Whatever it takes. One more vote for Trump. He’s done great things for this country."