A little more than a week ago, Wallace Reed of Vinton was down in Florida for his sister’s funeral when he took a tumble.
He broke his hip and fractured a vertebrae in his neck — notice the collar in the shot below.
He was brought back to Roanoke via an air ambulance flight that cost $10,000 (that was a discount). And he’s been in a rehab center ever since. He got back one day too late to get a absentee ballot, said his daughter, Vickie Martines.
But he would not be deterred from voting Tuesday.
“He told me he’s voted in every presidential election since Roosevelt,” she said. “He wasn’t going to let a broken hip and a fractured neck stop him.”
A little after lunchtime, Martines and her husband, David, picked up Reed at the rehab center where he’s living right now. I met them at the Vinton Senior Center, where they took him to vote.
He couldn’t get out of her car, so he sat there in the front passenger seat while an election official brought a portable voting machine out to him.
“I’m voting for Harry Byrd!” Reed barked, as a joke, to the election official.
“Who’s he going to vote her?” I asked Martines.
“He’s always voted Republican,” she said. “But he thought [President George W.] Bush was terrible. He’s said he’s never going to vote Republican again. So I think he’s voting for Obama.”
Officials at the senior center — one of the highest-performing Democratic precinct in Roanoke County — told me that 1,1,00 voters had showed up by 1:30 p.m., compared to about 700-800 by the same time four years ago. Things seemed to be running smoothly there. Early in the afternoon, the lines were short, although they had been much longer in the morning.
But the scene was quite different at Villa Heights, a precinct at Forest Park Academy in Northwest Roanoke. There, I found more than 250 people in a line that snaked out of the gym, then back inside the building, where it filled two hallways all the way to the other side of the place.
There, I met Priscilla Beane, who had been in line for two hours and still had about 80 people ahead of her.
The bottleneck seemed to be at the desk where two workers checked IDs against voter registration terminals.
One of five iVotronic voting machines was out of order, and two voting-machine repairmen were on hand to try to repair it.
I asked one of them if there had been a lot of similar problems today, and he wouldn’t tell me. Instead, he gave me a phone number to ESS, the machines’ owner, and the name of a guy I could talk to there.
But pace of approving voters to vote proceeded at such a snail’s pace that the down machine didn’t make much of a difference. It was going so slowly that for most of the time I was there, 2 of the 4 working machines were empty anyway.
Outside the Villa Height precinct, the parking lot was a mess of cars trying to get in and out. The lot is too small to accommodate many cars, and it was a mess of drivers trying to get in, trying to back out. So that my car could exit, a city policeman had to back his car all the way down to Melrose Avenue. There was no traffic control a little after 2 but they sure needed some.
Things were running more smoothly elsewhere.
There were no lines whatsoever when I wandered into Vinton Baptist Church on Washinton Avenue around 2 p.m.
There were long lines, however, at William Byrd High School in Roanoke County. There, a local church giving away hot dogs, popcorn and coffee to voters. Here’s a shot of the folks inside waiting to vote.
The only place I felt at all unwelcome was at the Melrose precinct, which was voting at St. Gerard’s Catholic Church on Orange Avenue.
There, I walked in and took a picture. A white guy in a sports jacket who was standing behind the election officials tapped on the shoulder of a woman sitting at the desk, checking voters. She motioned to me.
“Sir, come here,” she said to me. “Who are you?”
“I’m Dan Casey of The Roanoke Times,” I said.
“Well, you’re not allow to take picture in here,” she admonished me.
“I’m not?” I asked?
“No, you’re not,” she said. “You can take them outside, but not inside.” Below is the pic I took.