Election Day is finally here, and some people just couldn’t wait to get to the polls this morning to exercise their right to vote.
Democracy was on display long before dawn in the bowels of the Orchard Park Municipal Building, where more than a dozen people waited in line for the 6 a.m. opening of the polls.
“I’ve never seen a line like we had this morning,” said Bob Pope, a county elections inspector working at the building. “I’d say we had probably 15 or 16 people [at 6 a.m.]. I think it is the heat of the presidential election.”
Election Day features three main races for local voters.
The top lure is the heavyweight battle for president between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. While the national race remains in doubt, New York long ago was marked down as a solid Obama state.
But two highly contested undercard bouts have drawn plenty of interest: the 27th Congressional District street fight pitting Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Hamburg, against Republican opponent Chris Collins of Clarence and the three-way dog fight among Republican Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, Democrat Michael L. Amodeo and Conservative Party candidate Charles M. Swanick for the 60th District State Senate seat.
Some came early to the polls, on their way to work.
The first voters showed up at 5:30 a.m. in the basement of the Orchard Park Municipal Building, with Don Rust and Jeffrey Stanes holding the first two places in line. The third person, Dave Rebmann, a social studies teacher at Orchard Park Middle School, wanted to set a good example for his students.
Like others, Rebmann was fascinated by the Collins-Hochul race.
“It’s a good expression of a democracy," Rebmann said. “They’re both very capable candidates. You’ve got to give people credit for going out and running. That’s what makes America, that the best people run, putting their head on the line. That’s what made America.”
Discussions with about a dozen voters in Orchard Park and at Grace Lutheran Church in Hamburg revealed two overwhelmingly predominant themes.
People, especially the early-bird voters, were thrilled to exercise their constitutional privilege. They were even more unanimous on their other point: They’ve had it with all the negative campaigning.
Suzanne Sommer, a medical receptionist from Hamburg, expressed both those points.
“I just really feel people died so we can vote,” she said in the foyer of the mobbed Grace Lutheran Church shortly after 7 a.m. “So everybody should be here. I think there should be long lines every day.”
She then was asked about the tone of the campaigns.
“I’m tired of the phone calls, and I’m so tired of the negativity," she said. “I wish people would come out and say what they’re for, instead of slandering one another.”
Julie Bettcher, a corporate tax accountant, also talked about the importance of voting, for her family’s future.
“I feel pretty important,” she said. “It’s a big day for everybody, for all of us. I’m here exercising my rights.”
Some families turned voting into an educational lesson – and a tradition – for their children.
Like Jack Ruh, 55, of Orchard Park, who brought his two youngest daughters, Sofia, 11, and Marta, 8, to the polls, some time around 6:30 a.m.
“It’s a great tradition,” he said of the early family voting. “We’re going from voting to Tim Horton’s to piano [lessons] to school.”
Kim DeMarco, of Hamburg, who works for American Airlines, called voting a God-given right, stressing that she hopes her vote counts.
But then she referred to the negativity in the Collins-Hochul and other races.
“It actually leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, all the negative commercials,” she said. “I don’t hear what they’re going to do. I’m just hearing what the other one has done wrong.
“I’m glad it’s coming to an end,” she added. “We’ve been waiting for a long time for today. I think people are tired of all the stuff in their mailboxes, and we don’t answer the phone anymore.”
At Clarence Fire Hall, a steady flow of voters showed up in the morning to cast their votes – and decide between Hochul and Collins.
“I think Chris Collins did an excellent job fiscally for Erie County, and I anticipate that he will use his skills and [meet] the challenge at this level," said Lorraine Probst of Clarence.
Barbara Condrell said she also voted for Collins.
“It was right down to the wire about who I was going to vote for, but in the end I decided to vote for Chris Collins," she said. “Basically, no candidate is perfect, and so you just have to figure out, I hate to say, the lesser of two evils. So I voted Republican.”
Robert and Linda Zielinski went for Hochul.
“It’s odd, because I’m a registered Republican,” Robert Zielinski said. “They’ve alienated me with the right-wing lunacy.”
Bob Munzert of Clarence did the same.
“I think she’s doing a great job, and he’s against everything I stand for,” he said.
Hochul walked in to vote in Orchard Park, lugging a couple boxes of doughnuts for the election volunteers.
She talked about running in the predominantly Republican district, with roughly a 50 percent new constituency compared to her old district. Although Republicans outnumber Democrats by some 8 percentage points in the district, 25 percent of the voters are not registered with either of the two main parties.
“No one dreamed in a million years that we’d be this close on Election Day,” she said of the recent polls showing her in a statistical dead heat with Collins.
Collins also arrived with doughnuts at the Clarence Fire Hall, walking in at 9:25 a.m. to cast his vote.
He expressed confidence at the outcome, and was also glad to be getting off the campaign trail.
“I’ve been campaigning for two straight years," he said. “We’re going to look forward to kicking back a little bit. The kids are coming home for Thanksgiving.”
Asked what he had learned about himself from the taxing campaign, he said: “That I have to smile more. That’s what I learned.”
Hochul and Collins, along with their outside groups, have spent more than $5 million on television ads to reach the voters, much of it focusing on attacking the other candidate.
A News reporter asked Hochul what she would tell the voters who seemed unanimous in their distaste for the negative campaigning that marked the 27th District campaign.
“I agree with them,” she said, adding that there has to be a way to put a dent in the millions of dollars from outside groups that are polluting the airwaves. “We’ve got to put an end to that and restore civility to our [election campaigns].”
Collins insisted his campaign was not negative.
“We didn’t run a nasty campaign; my opponent did," he said. “We stayed positive, certainly the last few weeks you saw that in my commercials. We were positive, she was very negative.”
He was asked by The News about the Halloween-themed commercial that has run often in recent days and casts Hochul in a negative light.
“It’s not my ad, and I actually think it’s kind of comical. When the airwaves are crowded, you have to cut through, and you’d have to admit that one cut through,” Collins said.
Voters, no matter how thrilled they are to be exercising their rights, are looking forward to later today – to having their mailboxes unclogged, their telephone lines free of voter surveys and last-minute pitches, and their TV watching devoid of all the political name-calling.
Here’s how bad the negative campaigning has become, at least for Bettcher, the corporate tax accountant.
“It will free up the mailbox so I can see my bills again,” she quipped.
Live coverage on BuffaloNews.com continues all day with a chat, now under way, and video updates every 30 minutes starting at noon.