Steve Burstein, a Democratic committeeman from Northeast Philadelphia has worked the polls there on every Election Day since 1978, but he said he'd never seen voter turnout quite like Tuesday's, as a two-year campaign for the presidency finally came to an end and voters had their say.
"When Reagan won [in 1984], that was about the worst I ever saw it, and this day's going to outshine even that," said Burstein, just shy of 10 a.m., after the morning rush had subsided somewhat at Congregation Beth Solomon Kollel and Community Center, an Orthodox congregation that, along with a number of other synagogues and Jewish institutions, served as a polling location.
Across the Delaware Valley, voters formed long lines well before polls opened at 7 a.m. Many used to strolling in and out of polling sites in a matter of minutes reported waiting as long as an hour to cast their ballots. For instance, at Gratz College, about 75 people werewaiting in line when the polls opened; more than 200 people had voted by 8:30 a.m.
At least temporarily, the grounds at the college were plastered with political signs.
"The last eight years have been terrible — for our country, for everybody," said Obama backer Carole Zimmerman, after voting at Beth Solomon.
Still, John McCain had his fair share of supporters at the Northeast polling site.
"I trust him," Harris Popolov said of McCain. "He's a man of his word, and he's been consistent all the way through. Hopefully, he'll live all through the presidency, so we won't have to deal with Palin."
But at Gratz, Obama appeared to have the edge.
"I'm not happy with the way the Republicans are running things," said Kyle Solomon, 45, of Melrose Park, adding that the war in Iraq and the economy were her top concerns.
"Sarah Palin was a big detractor — for me anyway," she said.
Steve and Lynda Boardman of Melrose Park said that the most important issues were national security and the economy, and that's why they both cast votes for the Arizona senator.
"McCain will do a better job for Israel," said Lynda Boardman. "You better believe it."
In Other Neighborhoods
On the Main Line, Democratic committeewoman Linda Benson, marveled at the number of people at her polling place at Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El in Wynnewood; it was the largest turnout she'd seen in nearly two decades working at the polls on Election Day.
Speaking at around 10:30 a.m., Benson acknowledged feeling nervous about the outcome of the presidential race.
"I'm petrified actually," she said, adding that she was looking forward to the race being over because it felt as if it "has been going on for most of my lifetime."
Maxine Comisky stood outside the synagogue, handing out leaflets for her mother, Lynne Lechter, a Republican candidate for state representative.
Comisky said she comes from a politically mixed marriage — her husband is a registered Democrat — but she was planning to vote for McCain. (She hadn't yet gotten to her polling site in Penn Valley.)
"I really believe he can reform things, and I don't equate him with Bush," she said.
Beth Ladenheim, a mother of three and a member of the synagogue, brought her 8-year-old son with her into the booth; in fact, they both pressed the button for McCain.
"I'm a Republican. I don't want government taking care of everything, because they just mess it up anyhow," said Ladenheim. "I am very worried about Obama and what he would do, or not do, to help Israel."
But Louis E. Slawe, a 66-year-old attorney sporting an Obama button written in Hebrew lettering, argued that the Democrat candidate had more than passed the Israel litmus test.
"From a political perspective, it's stupid not to support a democracy like Israel. It just doesn't make sense for any president," said Slawe, a Wynnewood resident.
Lower Merion High School senior Paul Finkel cast his first-ever vote for Obama.
"It was invigorating to press the button," said the 18-year-old. "I remember my dad, he took me into the booth when I was a lot younger to show me what it was like. But it's totally different when you actually do it yourself."
Staff writers Michelle Mostovy-Eisenberg, Aaron Passman and Bryan Schwartzman contributed to this story.