Cool, Calm and Collected at Grand Rapids Polling Station

Cool, Calm and Collected at Grand Rapids Polling Station
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With McCain's surprise withdrawal from the state on Oct. 2, and Obama enjoying a major advantage in the latest polling, Michigan's 17 electoral votes are all but in the bank for the Illinois senator. Nevertheless, record turnout is expected today in the Wolverine state - just two weeks ago Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land reported that 7.47 million Michigan residents were registered to vote, representing an unprecedented 98 percent of the voting age population.

Early voting opened yesterday in Michigan for those sixty and older, although from what I saw at the polls this morning, not everyone qualifying took advantage. I arrived this morning at Coit Creative Arts Academy in northeastern Grand Rapids not knowing what to expect. Not overly concerned but still cautious of reports of seven and eight-hour lines in Ohio and Florida, I decided to go in the early morning, and arrived around 9:15. The line at that point was not long - only 30 or 40 people, I'd say - but elections officials insisted that shortly after the polls opened at 7 a.m., the line had meandered through the school, outside and around the building. I was told waits had been longer than an hour, but I waited only half an hour. The ballot was clear, concise, and even the two statewide proposals - referendums on medical marijuana and stem cell research - were surprisingly straightforward. The general feeling among both voters and poll workers was cool, calm, and collected.

If I wasn't exactly overwhelmed by the mid-morning turnout and enthusiasm, I was tremendously pleased by the voters' demographic breakdown. My neighborhood in Grand Rapids is a fairly diverse community of blacks, whites, and Hispanics, although white conservatives (particularly of the Dutch Reformed variety) have traditionally enjoyed tremendous influence. Today, however, northeastern Grand Rapids had all the bases covered. Most apparent was the number of young, college-age voters I encountered - a marked increase from even last January when the Democrats held their primary. All signs seemingly favor Obama this morning, true to the latest RCP statewide polling average that affords the Democrat a 13 point advantage over John McCain.

"I think it was epic," said Shawn Wanhala, a senior at Aquinas College who voted for Obama this morning in suburban Rockford, Michigan. "I've had anxiety all afternoon." Wanhala said there weren't many people in line at the church he voted at, but dismissed Rockford as an almost exclusively white enclave of Republican support.

"We actually drove by a Palin sign that had McCain's half cut off," he said, laughing. "People are crazy here."

The trend seemed to hold in other locations around the city, as well. John Taylor voted in Wyoming, just outside Grand Rapids, and thought the intangibles favored Obama, whom he supports.

"I was proud that all the demographics - all ages and races - were well represented at my polling place," said Taylor, another senior at Aquinas. "I thought the mood was excited, but anxious." Taylor encountered no problems, and waited for less than five minutes to vote at 9 a.m.

Both Taylor and Wanhala are confident American college students will not disappoint. "All of my friends have voted already," Wanhala said. "Except for maybe one or two who are like, 'man, your vote doesn't matter'... Those guys," Wanhala says, "they're like, communists or something."

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