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What rain? Turnout brisk all over the region

Despite a positively damp and dismal Election Day, turnout was believed to be easily exceeding the totals from 2010 and 2014

Voters sign in to vote at Trinity Episcopal Church in Ambler.
Voters sign in to vote at Trinity Episcopal Church in Ambler.Read moreCharles Fox/Staff photographer

On a positively dismal Election Day morning, poll workers arrived at 6:30 at a Knights of Columbus hall in the heart of Bucks County to find 60 people already waiting to vote.

Hours later at a Center City building where he works, Dennis Oczkowski, 67, marveled at the throng of voters at a Broad Street polling place. "I've never seen anything like this before," he said. "I think a lot of people have a lot to say in this election."

On both sides of the river, where hotly contested congressional races were viewed as pivotal to the future of which party would control the U.S. House, turnout was reported unusually brisk for a midterm election.

Voters showed up early and they kept on coming, as persistent as the rain.

Official turnout figures won't be available for several days, but the long lines, comments from veteran poll observers, and available preliminary figures all suggested that a dramatic  bump in turnout numbers, compared with those of the 2014 midterm elections. In Philadelphia and the neighboring four Pennsylvania counties, turnout was near 60 percent, compared with 43 percent in 2014 — a 17 percentage point jump.

"By 10 a.m., we had more votes than the entire primary day last June," said a veteran poll worker in Lacey Township, Ocean County, where Republican U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur was in a toss-up race with Democrat Andy Kim, whose supporters had knocked on 17,000 doors to exhort voters.

To the west, in Cherry Hill, at the Trinity Presbyterian Church polling site, more than 300 had voted as of 11 a.m. Four years ago, only 200 showed up the entire day, according to a poll worker. Unusually high numbers of voters also were reported in Lindenwold.

As of 9:30 p.m., an estimated 136,257 votes were cast in Camden County, or 42 percent of registered voters, compared with 116,403, or 32 percent in 2014.

Across the river in Montgomery County, 367,959 votes were counted on Tuesday, a 65 percent turnout, compared with 47 percent in 2014.

Turnout also was strong throughout Philadelphia. According to projections from the website Sixty-Six Wards, 555,305 people voted across Philadelphia, a 52 percent turnout, compared with 381,503, or 37 percent, in 2014.

In the morning, the line to vote at Queen Village's St. Stanislaus Church snaked through the parking lot and up Fitzwater Street.

"Jeez, did Trump do all this?" said Larry Sechuk, 60, an administrator for an international retail company, waiting in line to vote. "I've been here 21 years," he said "I've always walked right in."

It was unclear precisely how attitudes toward President Trump had motivated midterm voters. The president, who did far better than expected in Bucks County in 2016, helping him to carry Pennsylvania, has energized supporters and opponents this year.

Trump was a factor — albeit indirectly — in two races considered pivotal.

In Bucks, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican who held off a challenge from Democrat Scott Wallace, tried to distance himself from Trump. In New Jersey, MacArthur cast himself as an independent, although he has been allied with the president.

In interviews Tuesday, several voters invoked Trump's name.

"I really am not happy with the way the Trump administration is running things," said Doug Carmody, 35, of Newtown, Bucks County.

Jane Meredith, 78, who voted for Fitzpatrick, said she was satisfied with the status quo. "We like what's going on, and we want to keep it that way," she said.

At that Knights of Columbus site in Middletown Township, in the Fitzpatrick-Wallace battleground, Republican committee person Carl Salega said he had seen a fresh crop of first-time and young voters.

Salega said he believes the turnout at the Middletown location might even eclipse the record set in the 2016 presidential election.

"It's been going ridiculously well," said Salega, 64. By mid-afternoon in Langhorne, at Maple Point Middle School, which hosts three precincts, nearly half of the 4,300 registered voters had already cast ballots.

As in all congressional races in Pennsylvania, Fitzpatrick and Wallace were competing for a seat in a newly redrawn district. The state Supreme Court ordered the districts reconfigured this year, finding that the old map had been gerrymandered to favor Republicans.

Democrats flipped several seats in Pennsylvania in their quest to gain a House majority.

Whatever was motivating voters, rains that continued into the evening weren't deterring them. Political observers (not to mention editors) have held for years that rain holds down turnout; however, an Inquirer and Daily News analysis of elections dating to 1960 found no evidence that weather had any impact. "There is not a scintilla of real evidence that weather affects the outcome," said G. Terry Madonna, the venerable Franklin and Marshall College political observer.

In any event, evidently get-out-the vote efforts had some impact, and they continued into the night.

"You have one thing to do between now and 8 o'clock," former Gov. Ed Rendell told South Philadelphians, his voice booming from a megaphone atop a nondescript white vehicle. "Vote."

Staff writers Rita Giordano, Jonathan Lai, Diane Mastrull, Erin McCarthy, Tommy Rowan, and Vinny Vella contributed to this article.