Nisha Dey voted in a presidential election for the first time today, continuing a family tradition of making one's voice heard through the power of the ballot.
The 19-year-old Northern Virginia Community College student joined her mother, Surita, at the Oakton High School precinct, excited to have exercised her right to vote for the first time — and acknowledging her civic-minded parents likely would have nudged her to head to the polls if she had not decided to go on her own.
"I want my opinion to count, obviously," Nisha Dey said. "And I just kept seeing voter registration everywhere I went, even on campus, so I just thought,'Why not?'"
With Virginia considered a toss-up this year, the Deys felt the pressure to help swing the election to their preferred candidate in the choice between President Barack Obama (D) and Mitt Romney (R) for president.
As turnout soared at all four precincts covered by Oakton Patch — Waples Mill Elementary, Oak Marr Recreation Center, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax and Oakton High School — it seemed Virginians in this area are taking the state's status as a swing state seriously.
The expected morning rush extended into the early afternoon, with lines not simmering down until mid-afternoon — leaving just a few hours of relief for poll workers before the evening rush.
"I was very surprised at the turnout. The lines are long. My precinct is packed," said Mike Peters, a voter at the Waples Mill Elementary precinct who praised the precinct for offering voters a choice between a paper voting line and an electronic voting line. "I have never seen so many people before in the previous elections. My wait was about 40 minutes ... I chose the paper line, which moved a lot quicker. But I'm so glad everybody is turning out to vote in this election."
Peters had the war in Afghanistan and the economy foremost in his mind as he cast his ballot, and emphasized the need for a candidate who is focused on both the domestic and global economies.
His fellow voters joined him in the concern for the economy, and some thought a change in direction is necessary to turn things around.
"I think it's time for change. I think we need fresh perspectives and new ideas. I think what we've been through in the past couple of years have not been working so well for the majority of the county," said Patty Reed, a member of the Fairfax County School Board representing the Providence District who cast her ballot at the Oak Marr Recreation precinct this afternoon.
But Surita Dey thinks a slow recovery is still a recovery, and she'd like to see a continuation of policies that have been put into place.
"I see progress in certain places. I just want stuff to be a little smoother than it is now," she said. "And it will be. Just give it a little bit more time. Four years isn't enough for me."
Virginians are also voting for a new U.S. Senator, choosing between former governors Tim Kaine (D) and George Allen (R) to fill the seat of Sen. Jim Webb (D), who served one term after defeating Allen for the role in 2006. The Kaine-Allen race for the Senate is considered one of the tightest in the nation — and the turnout and excitement for one candidate could translate to the presidential election and vice versa, as many voters vote along party lines.
With redistricting this year, Oakton is now split between the 10th and 11th congressional districts.
Voters in the 10th District will be determining whether 16-term congressman Frank Wolf (R) will win the seat for a 17th time or one of his challengers, Kristin Cabral (D) or Kevin Chisholm (I).
The 11th District race will be closely watched, as the 2010 race between incumbent Gerry Connolly (D) and Keith Fimian (R) could not be called until several days after the election. This year, Connolly faces five opponents, including Col. Chris Perkins (R), who will prove to be his biggest competition.
Check Oakton Patch after the polls close for an update on how your neighbors and the rest of the state voted.