How To Pass Time In Line At The Polls

Voter turnout is expected to be very high on Nov. 4 as Americans cast their ballots in the historic 2008 presidential election. High turnout can mean long lines, so reporter Mandy Trimble checked in with early voters to see how they were passing the time.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Here are headlines from stories we're following here today at NPR News. The Supreme Court heard a case today involving drug labels and the Food and Drug Administration. The case test whether after a drug's label is approved by the FDA, the drug company can be sued by someone claiming the label needed more information. And national polls continue to show that Democrat Barack Obama leads Republican John McCain but the race is much closer in many of the key battleground states that the candidates are fighting for.

Details on those stories and of course much more later today on All Things Considered. Tomorrow on Talk of the Nation, we'll spend Election Day talking with members of the military. Two issues loom near the top of the next commander-in-chief's to-do list - Iraq and Afghanistan. And if you have as much at stake as the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces, so what does your new Commander-In-Chief need to know about your job and your life. That's tomorrow on Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

Well, excited to vote, you arrive at the poll and find a line of voters that keeps going and going and going. In many states, people face unprecedented waits to vote early this year, and we're told to expect lines in a lot of places tomorrow, too. So, how do you pass the time, books, headphones, group conga lines? We want to get advices? So if you waited out long lines this year in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado, Virginia or elsewhere, call those of us who'll wait it out tomorrow with advice on voting line dos and don'ts.

Our phone number, 800-989-8255; email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. We go now to Mandy Trimble, a news reporter from member station WOSU in Columbus, Ohio. With us today from the Veterans Memorial polling location in Franklin County, Ohio. And Mandy, nice of you to be with us today.

MANDY TRIMBLE: Thank you. It's good to be with you, Neal. How are you?

CONAN: I'm well. Thanks. Are voters waiting in line there?

TRIMBLE: Oh, voters are waiting in line here. They've had to open the north end of this Veterans Memorial. The line snakes all the way from the north to the south. And just to give you an idea, it's about a four-hour wait.

CONAN: Good Lord.

TRIMBLE: To be able to vote. Yeah.

CONAN: So that's got to be what - at least a hundred or 200 people there.

TRIMBLE: Oh, I would say several thousand.

CONAN: Several thousand?

TRIMBLE: I would imagine, yes. There have been 50,000 - more than 50,000 people have voted in person now at Vets Memorial and that's since September, and the past several days have been close to 3,000 people each day.

CONAN: And this is just one place?

TRIMBLE: This is just one place. There's only one place in Franklin County to vote early. So these are voters from hundreds of polling places that come here to be able to vote.

CONAN: So if you're going to bring a book, you might want to bring "War and Peace."

TRIMBLE: You would bring "War and Peace" or maybe "Moby Dick" or something.

CONAN: What are people actually doing?

TRIMBLE: People are listening to iPods, they're reading books, they're talking to their neighbors. The Boards of Election have actually passed out water and granola bars to people. They're making the best of it. The mood here is pretty light. People are being patient. I think it's because they're determined to be able to vote.

CONAN: You'll forgive me but if you're going to wait on line for four hours, there's occasionally certain urgent business that needs to be taken care of.

TRIMBLE: I'm sorry, Neal. You broke up for just a moment. What was that?

CONAN: I'm saying are people willing to hold somebody's place in line while they go visit the men's room or the ladies' room.

TRIMBLE: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. There is a restroom and oddly enough it is at the front of the line. So, I think there are people actually making sure that people do not jump in line, and actually there was an incident while I was here about an hour ago. A woman had been waiting in line for several hours, her daughter showed up and tried to get in line with her and people behind her did get upset and notified some of the sheriff deputies and they took care of it and the woman was not allowed to jump lines.

CONAN: And can you give some idea of the age of this long, long line? Are there young people, old people?

TRIMBLE: Neal, the age varies. I mean there are folks here in their 20s on up to elderly people being wheeled in wheelchairs. So the age runs the gamut.

CONAN: Because people would suspect that maybe young people wouldn't have the patience and old people would well just be uncomfortable waiting that long.

TRIMBLE: Absolutely. I spoke with a gentleman who has MS and luckily he was moved to the front of the line because of his disability. So you know - but people are - they're being patient.

CONAN: Could you pass the phone to somebody?

TRIMBLE: Absolutely. I'm going to pass the phone to David Mortman(ph) from Worthington. Neal, here is David.

CONAN: David.

DAVID (Voter): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, David. How are you?

DAVID: Good. How are you?

CONAN: How long have you been waiting in line?

DAVID: About three and a half hours so far.

CONAN: And so you're not that far away at this point.

DAVID: I can actually see voting machines if I get on my tippy toes.

CONAN: That's got to be pretty exciting after all this time. What have you been doing to kill the time?

DAVID: I've brought a book to read. I've been talking with my neighbors. I have snacks.

CONAN: What book are you reading?

DAVID: I'm reading on Neil Gaiman's new book. It's called "The Graveyard Book."

CONAN: I haven't seen that one. He's one of my favorites.

DAVID: It's just came out a couple of weeks ago.

CONAN: And so you're making progress in your book and you feel all of this waiting is worth it?

DAVID: Oh absolutely.

CONAN: And what of those around you. Are they feeling like this is worth it to them? They must be. They've been waiting three and a half hours.

DAVID: People are pretty determined to wait it out.

CONAN: Now why are you going to such effort to vote today as suppose to tomorrow when there's going to be a lot more places open?

DAVID: Well, because I'm driving to Chicago tomorrow, actually for a conference that I'm participating in. And I'm actually also hoping to get into the big rally at Grand Park.

CONAN: The big Obama rally that's at Grand Park in Chicago tomorrow. They think there might be a million people there.

DAVID: That's what they're saying.

CONAN: And when you - so you're absolutely voting sort of absentee, because you're not going to be there on Election Day itself.

DAVID: I'm sorry, you broke up there so I didn't like to catch that.

CONAN: That's all right, it was dumb question anyway. Dave, thanks very much.

DAVID: No problem.

CONAN: All right, pass the phone back to Mandy.

TRIMBLE: Hello, Neal. It's Mandy.

CONAN: Hi. And anybody else there for us to talk to?

TRIMBLE: Yeah. There is actually Giana Cox(ph) from Westerville who is right near me in line. Just one moment.

GIANA (Voter): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Gianni.

GIANNI: Yes.

CONAN: Giana, excuse me. It's Neal Conan at National Public Radio. How are you today?

GIANNI: I'm well and yourself?

CONAN: I'm good. You've been waiting on line a long time there?

GIANNI: Yes, about three and a half hours. I expected that.

CONAN: You're expected it. So what - did you bring a snack?

GIANNI: Actually no, but they were actually giving out granola bars and a water. But, I did bring a mp3 player and a book.

CONAN: Which book did you bring?

GIANNA: I brought Omar Tyree's "Pecking Order."

CONAN: What's on your mp3 player?

GIANNA: Say that again?

CONAN: What's on your mp3 player.

GIANNA: Oh I got a little bit of everything. I got a little bit of Corinne Bailey, Beyonce, Nelly, some gospel. I got a little bit of everything.

CONAN: And again, why are you - why you going to all this trouble to vote today when it might be actually easier to vote tomorrow?

GIANNA: Well, you know, I went to - I voted on 2004, and actually because I had to wait so long. At the time I had a job. So when I left my job to go vote, it was 9 o'clock in the morning, but I actually didn't get back to my job till my shift was over. So I wanted to kind of get this kind of out of the way, because I know so many people are going tomorrow.

CONAN: So you think it might be worse tomorrow than it is today?

GIANNA: Yeah, I really do.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much and good luck to you.

GIANNA: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

GIANNA: Here you go.

TRIMBLE: This is Mandy.

CONAN: Mandy, thanks very much. And so the people - have you met anybody who says look, this is just ridiculous. I got to go home?

TRIMBLE: I did. I did met one young man. He waited over three hours, and then left. He was going to be late for an exam. I think he was a local college student. So he did leave. But he's the only person that I've talked to, thus far who has not left.

CONAN: One of our large...

TRIMBLE: Who has left rather.

CONAN: Who has left rather, yeah. One of our larger universities being nearby there.

TRIMBLE: That's correct. The Ohio State University is here so I'm sure there are - I have seen numerous students. Actually there are a couple of young men, I believe they've already gone in, that had backpacks strapped to their backs, and asked them if they've been studying. They said no, they've just been interested in, you know, talking to folks around them. So they haven't even been studying.

CONAN: OK. Mandy, thanks very much for your trouble. We appreciate your time today.

TRIMBLE: Thanks so much, Neal, it was a pleasure.

CONAN: Mandy Trimble, a news reporter from our member station WOSU in Columbus, Ohio. With us from the Veteran's Memorial polling station in Franklin County. So those of you who've waited on line for early voting this year, how did you pass the time on line? Let's get to talk with Tim, Tim is with us from interstate in Indiana. I see you're on the interstate in Indiana.

TIM: Yes, Neal. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure. What's your...

TIM: Because - just want to say, I love your show, too.

CONAN: Oh thanks very much, it's kind of you.

TIM: Actually, I waited - just finished voting actually about a couple of hours ago and waited for three and a half hours. So there's a quite a bit of people there that were actually taking numbers. And if you didn't want to wait in sit and wait there at the courthouse, you could actually take the number and come back closer to time to vote. Which is actually what me and my friend did. So, and I can actually say that I've never loved my Blackberry more.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So you were online doing your emails and surfing the web?

TIM: Yeah. Surfing the web and actually to the previous section earlier in the hour, checking my Facebook and commenting on other people's blog and things like that, too. So I use my black - actually, I use my Blackberry for everything, you know. The Internet, but today was - I have to pass by the three and a half hours actually kind of cruised by faster than I thought so...

CONAN: It does challenge your battery life though, doesn't it?

TIM: Yes it does. They actually it does. Very quickly.

CONAN: All right. Tim, drive carefully. All right?

TIM: All right. Thank you very much. Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: So long. Here's an email we have from Bryan in Columbus, Ohio: I voted early yesterday and waited over six hours. Pizza and bottled water were provided by whom, I don't know. Let's see if we can get Mary on the line. Mary is with us from Birmingham in Alabama.

MARY (Caller): Hey. I'm planning to vote tomorrow, because we didn't have early voting except for absentee.

CONAN: Right.

MARY: But a plan to take a camp chair and a novel that I'm reading and my son's iPod.

CONAN: And your son's iPod, does that...

MARY: Well, I don't have one. But he's got some great Bruce Springsteen on there because I told him to. And I'm going to be reading a novel called "Run" by Ann Patchett..

CONAN: I'm unfamiliar with that, but I'm sure it's a good one.

MARY: Oh she's a really good writer.

CONAN: All right. And if it takes three or four hours, that's OK with you.

MARY: It's OK, yes. It seems what we have to do. I mean this is part of our American duty. So I'll do it. I'm not happy that it takes so long. What did - is this something that we didn't know it's coming? I think we've had some maybe poor planning.

CONAN: You may be right about that, but turnouts had been going down for a long time. And then, well, it's just been the last several years. I guess four years ago and again two years ago, they've really been turning up and people may be caught by surprise.

MARY: Right. Well, I'm glad to see the participation, that's for sure.

CONAN: All right, Mary. Thanks very much for the call. Good luck.

MARY: OK. Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: We're talking to people who are waiting on line or who have waited on line in early voting to get advice for those of us who will be waiting on long lines to vote tomorrow. 800-989-8255, email talk@npr.org and you're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And Tracy's on the line, Tracy with us from Greenville in North Carolina.

TRACY (Caller): Yeah. I waited in line about an hour and a half and I took an extra laptop battery with me. As well as an extra battery for my Blackberry and that seem to work out really well.

CONAN: And you had a high-speed Internet connection there?

TRACY: I did.

CONAN: And so that all worked out pretty well.

TRACY: It worked out really well. But I think in my district, it was quoted by one of the judges that over a quarter of the people in my district in North Carolina voted early.

CONAN: A quarter of the people.

TRACY(ph): Thirty thousand.

CONAN: And that's already and - I guess, people are still voting today?

TRACY: That - a week ago.

CONAN: Oh, that was a week ago. Because I've heard estimates that is, you know, 30, maybe 30 percent or more nationally will have voted already.

TRACY: Correct.

CONAN: Something like that. So while you were on - using up all that battery life, what were you doing on your computer?

TRACY: I was doing paper work for my job.

CONAN: So it's work.

TRACY: Pardon?

CONAN: So it was work. You're going to charge for it.

TRACY: It was work. I've no idea that one point check on my university, my University of Washington, Huskies on their Internet blog and they're suffering with the worst record in the nation but I didn't stay on too long, I went back to work.

CONAN: Well, you get a new coach next year so maybe it'll work out better for you.

TRACY: I hope so.

CONAN: All right, Tracy. Thanks very much for the call.

TRACY: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email from Deborah in Beaverton, Oregon. My suggestion, check out the real estate listings here in Oregon. All our elections are vote by mail, no lines, no hassles, no controversies of polling places. I already voted. All I had to do is drive up to the mailbox in my post office and toss in my ballot. After seeing this works so well in Oregon, I don't understand why every state isn't a vote-by-mail state. This is from Daniel in Tennessee. I waited in line for about an hour and 15 minutes to vote on Friday afternoon, over a week ago, this was in Wilson County, Tennessee, where they said the lines were never shorter than 45 minutes and as much as two hours during early voting. I had a Dean Koontz novel on my touch iPod which I read, time passed and I voted. And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Julie. Julie with us from Tallahassee in Florida.

Ms. JULIE (Caller): Yes. I'm in Tallahassee and we voted early and we stood in line for like - almost an hour. And the thing that was so exciting was that there were people talking to each and it was, you know, considering the fact that nobody walks anywhere and then had conversations, everybody's in their cars. It was really cool to have all these different people having conversations and not everybody was voting for the same person. So that was really exciting.

CONAN: And were people talking about politics, or were they talking about football?

JULIE: Yeah, there were some politics. But they're also talking about their lives, too which was really awesome.

CONAN: So, you met a whole lot of people you wouldn't have ordinarily met.

JULIE: Yeah. Yeah. In fact - definitely and Tallahassee is small, and I didn't know there were so many different people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JULIE: So, yeah. It was really exciting.

CONAN: All right, Julie. Thanks very much.

JULIE: Yeah. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email from Elizabeth in Layton, Utah. I stood in line for an hour 45 minutes on Thursday. My advice, bring a jacket in case of cold and an umbrella in case of rain, something with earphones in case of obnoxious people on line near you and an example ballot that you've already filled out so you don't have to take more than a few minutes. And let's see if we can Tyler on the line. Tyler with us from Grand Rapids in Michigan.

TYLER (Caller): Hi. I'm just looking for suggestions. My wife and I are voting in Michigan and we have to take our five-year-old and one and a half year old with us. And I just am worried about how long the lines are going to be and - I don't know.

CONAN: Do you have one of those portable video players? You could take a movie for the five year old?

TYLER: Well, we do. But I just - I'm just worried about holding his attention for more than an hour especially if we have to stand in line.

CONAN: It's going to be difficult. I would definitely bring food and you know, maybe a spare diaper or two.

TYLER: All right, thanks.

CONAN: Good luck. And we have this from Lucy in New York. It seems to me that the perfect book to read while waiting to vote this year would be "The Agony and The Ecstasy" on twitter. Then we got this from Galucha(ph). I'll be voting tomorrow, and I'll probably bring a bag of Halloween candy to share with other waiters if it's busy. Amy in Alaska emails, from my early voting experience in Fairbanks, bring liquids, projects you're working on for Christmas, cell phones, warm hearts and excitement for the historic nature of this election.

It's also a good time to do some serious letter writing. So those are all pieces of advice for people who have been waiting for those of us who will be waiting on line to vote tomorrow. We thank you all for your time, and thanks to everybody who twittered us and emailed us and gave us a call. Tomorrow, we'll be talking with members of the military on what their new commander-in-chief needs to know about what they do for a living and about their lives. Join us then, I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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