Voters filled church parking lots and lined up for ballots Tuesday in what appeared to be a high-turnout midterm election.
Polls closed at 7 p.m., and while statewide turnout numbers weren’t immediately available, vote counts at some Calhoun County polling places passed their 2014 totals by early afternoon.
“You’ve got to come out and get your voice heard,” said Weaver resident Jennifer Roberts, who voted at First United Methodist Church in Weaver. Thirteen hundred seven people voted there on Election Day in 2014. By the time Roberts arrived at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, 1,361 had already cast a ballot.
Turnout was the big — and potentially election-shaking — question mark as polls opened Tuesday morning. Democrats predicted a “blue wave,” as young voters and women disaffected by President Donald Trump became engaged in the campaign. Late in the game, Republicans began to speak of a Kavanaugh effect among Republicans, voters upset by what they saw as unfair accusations against the Supreme Court justice and excited about the possibility of overturning Roe. v Wade.
Some experts remained unconvinced. Secretary of State John Merrill earlier in the week predicted a 35 to 40 percent turnout, similar to the low turnout in 2014, Alabama’s last midterm election.
While accurate statewide turnout numbers weren’t available Tuesday night, the Anniston area seemed to exceed Merrill’s turnout projections. Forty-eight percent of voters in Talladega County and 41 percent of Cleburne County voters cast ballots. With about 11 percent of the boxes yet to be counted at 10 p.m. Tuesday, Calhoun County already had enough votes to equal 43 percent turnout.
If Calhoun County is any indication, there may be plenty in Tuesday’s numbers for political wonks to chew on. High turnout implies a lot of people voting for the first time, or at least voting in their first midterm. In 2016, many voters were glad to announce that they were voting in their first election, and why. Those ballot-box newbies seemed hard to find Tuesday.
“I’ve always been a voter,” said Anniston’s Willie Grant, who cast a ballot at the City Meeting Center and then returned at lunchtime to bring a friend to the polls. By 2 p.m., the City Meeting Center boxes had surpassed their all-day total from 2014’s midterms.
Most of the voters who spoke to The Star said they were regular midterm voters. Most declined to say who they voted for. When they did, their answers often didn’t fit conventional wisdom.
“I think people are concerned about what’s happening in the country, and they want to do something about it,” said Sheila Hand of Jacksonville, just before she entered West Side Baptist Church to vote.
If that sounds like an anti-incumbent tone, think again: Hand said she was voting for Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks. She said she’s not comfortable with some of the things President Donald Trump says, but she believes he has produced good results.
“You can’t ignore some things, like the stock market,” she said. “The numbers don’t lie.”
Trump isn’t on the ballot, but in recent days he’s stumped at rallies across the country, warning of a caravan of refugees supposedly headed to the U.S. border. The speeches seemed to ratchet up the tension in an electorate where an increasing number of people seemed unwilling to cross party lines.
Some voters, though are still willing to split their ticket. Bill Green of Saks, who voted at Saks High School, said he “votes for the person, not the party” and split his votes roughly evenly among the races that were actually contested. (No matter where you voted in Calhoun County, there were more than a dozen uncontested Republicans on the ballot.)
Green said he gave Walt Maddox, the Democratic Tuscaloosa mayor, his vote in the governor’s race, though he felt no ill will toward Gov. Kay Ivey.
“It’s just a change,” he said. “Some of these people are in there for so long, they don’t really see what the state needs.”