After a years-long battle, voters at and around Haverford College on Tuesday finally got to try out its new campus polling place.
And the early reviews were good.
At 10:15 a.m., turnout seemed strong, with about 225 of the more than 1,000 registered voters already casting their ballot at the college's facilities building, said Seyna Abel, judge of elections.
"We had a very long line at 7 a.m.," Abel added.
By 5:15 p.m., with nearly three hours of voting yet to go, 688 people had voted; during the presidential election two years ago, 873 voters cast ballots in the precinct.
High interest in the midterm election and the proximity of the polling place to both students and the nearby neighborhood both helped to drive turnout, despite the steady pounding rain.
"We've had a large percentage of the voters here already, larger than we've had in other elections," said Abel, who lives in the community. "This is our first time in this location, and it's working out very nicely. People are happy. The rain really hasn't deterred them much, and they're happy about the change."
College officials and some nearby residents had complained that students, most of whom don't have cars and who make up the majority of the voters in the precinct, had to travel a mile and a half, in some cases on a road without sidewalks, to reach their prior polling place at Coopertown Elementary School.
The college had run shuttles, but that meant students, who have heavy academic workloads, had to sometimes wait more than an hour to catch a ride, vote, and return. The Delaware County Board of Elections had turned down requests to move the polling place on or near campus, prompting some critics to accuse the largely Republican county government of trying to discourage voting at a Democratic-leaning college campus, which the GOP chairman of Delaware County denied.
In September, after coverage of the issue in the Inquirer, the elections board voted to move the polling place to campus. The college provided parking and extensive signage leading voters to the new site, as officials promised they would.
"I liked that there were postings all along the way guiding me right to the polling place," said Karen Newman, 72, a retired teacher.
She is close enough to walk, though she chose to drive because of the rain.
"It's quick and easy and parking is fabulous," she said.
A steady stream of students and residents arrived to vote throughout the morning. John Ratliff, 18, a freshman economics major from Pennington, N.J., said he had done his research and was ready to cast his first vote.
"It was a bit of a decision whether to vote in New Jersey or here, but I decided to vote here because I felt like my vote would have a little more of an impact than it would back there," he said.
Matan Arad-Neeman, 20, a sophomore from the Seattle area, said it took him only three minutes to walk from where he lives on campus to the polling place, and he liked that.
"It makes it a little easier for us to vote," he said. "In a country with a long history of voter suppression, this is a big step for this precinct."
He said there has been a lot of talk on campus about the importance of getting out and voting.
"Folks are aware of how high the stakes are for this election, maybe more so than in the past," Arad-Neeman said.