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Voters ignore virus fears with long queues for the first day of in-person ballot

 

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Voters queue up in Fairfax. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Voters queue up in Fairfax. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Voters queue up in Fairfax. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Huge queues formed yesterday outside polling stations in the US state of Virginia as residents took advantage of the first day of in-person voting, defying fears that the coronavirus pandemic would keep people away.

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 in Richmond, Henrico County and Arlington. Half a dozen of America's 50 states have now started in person-voting for the election on November 3.

The long queues led to speculation that voters were especially enthusiastic to back the candidates in this election cycle, or that Donald Trump's repeated attacks on 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.

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 the first of their three head-to-head debates.

In Fairfax, which saw some of the longest queues, the lines outside the government centre were unprecedented and made headlines.

Jeff Milstein (65) said: "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." He added: "There's not a lot of social distancing. You can't police it with the line so long."

Hillary Clinton won Fairfax County, which has a population of more than one million, by 35 percentage points in 2016. That suggested the queues could indicate high levels of enthusiasm among Democrats.

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Before polls opened at 8am around 300 people were already lined up to wait.

A Republican precinct captain, manning a stand 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."

Ken Lee (48), a locksmith wearing a Make America 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."

The queues came the morning after Mr Biden held a rare "town hall" event, where a string of voters asked unscripted questions.

At one point he called on Mr Trump to "step down" over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Mr Biden said: "This is all about one thing, the stock market. He [Mr Trump] doesn't want to see anything happen. It's all about his re-election.

"You've got to level with the American people, shoot from the shoulder. There's not been a time they've not been able to step up. The president should step down."

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]


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