Generations of voters turn out for key races in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware

Louise deVirgillo is 98-years-old and helping people with the voting machines. She’s been working at Brookhaven’s 2nd Precinct every election for 40 years. She says she’s “never seen people so excited for a midterm.” (Robert Brod/WHYY)

Louise deVirgillo is 98-years-old and helping people with the voting machines. She’s been working at Brookhaven’s 2nd Precinct every election for 40 years. She says she’s “never seen people so excited for a midterm.” (Robert Brod/WHYY)

Updated: 4:44 p.m. EST

With hours to go before polls close, voters are casting their ballots in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania for a myriad of races critical to all three Statehouses and the makeup of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

There are major statewide races in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey and high-stakes congressional battles that will help determine which party controls Congress.

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A court-ordered redistricting of Pennsylvania congressional boundaries and the departure of four Republican incumbents have given Democrats a chance to pick up several seats in their bid for power in the U.S. House.

One of those gains is expected in the new district that encompasses all of Delaware County.

There, in Brookhaven, 33-year-old Chelsea Barrish, predicts Democrats will take control.

Chelsea Barrish, 33, from Brookhaven, Delaware County. (Robby Brod/WHYY)

“I think that it’ll restore us to a more balanced system, and provide the checks on the government that are needed,” she said.

Chuck Matheus, a retired Republican from Brookhaven, is sick of the “political animosity between Democrats and Republicans.” He thinks leftist activism will encourage GOP voters to show up this election.

Chuck Matheus, a retired Republican from Brookhaven. (Robby Brod/WHYY)

“People are tired of it. And they’re coming out to vote where they didn’t before,” he said.

Louise deVirgillo, 98, has been working at Brookhaven’s 2nd Precinct every election for 40 years. She says she’s “never seen people so excited for a midterm.”

Across the Delaware Valley, there have been reports of longer lines and higher turnout than typical for recent midterms.

In Philadelphia’s 38th ward, poll workers said 50 people showed up to vote in the first 50 minutes. By 9 a.m., turnout was as heavy as a presidential election.

And despite the heavy rain this morning, a steady stream of voters descended on Skyline Middle School in Pike Creek, Delaware.

In Warminster, election volunteer Chryledine Wilson said the polling place typically gets around 20 voters per hour. Within the first hour, there were 47 voters, she said. The township is in Bucks County where the 1st Congressional District race is considered one of the most hotly contested in today’s midterm election.

John O’Reilly, of Newtown, said he’s voting for incumbent Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick because he’s a conservative. When asked what he liked about him, he said he’s against Democrat Scott Wallace. “Just like how I’m not crazy about Trump, but I didn’t want Hillary,” O’Reilly said.

John O’Reilly in Newtown says he’s voting for Fitzpatrick because he’s a conservative. (Taylor Allen/WHYY)

Barry Hitching voted with his wife Cheryl in Langhorne, also in Bucks County.  She voted straight Democratic ticket, but he was divided. “I’m a registered Republican, but I split my ticket.  I think I’m a closet independent.”

Elvina Houghton, 71, dressed in red and blue, cast her ballot in Elkins Park, Montgomery County, choosing Democrat Madeleine Dean for Congress.

She thinks the tone in politics has gotten too nasty.

“They need to remember what their mothers told them to do: ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’”

Ron Tarkowsky voted at Cook-Wissahickon Elementary in Roxborough, where there were plenty of signs for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Lou Barletta and none for incumbent Democrat Bob Casey.

Tarkowski, an operating engineer, said he voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election and may vote for him again in 2020. But he voted straight Democrat today because he mistakenly believed he couldn’t cross party lines in the midterm election.

“I share both ideals,” he said of Democrats and Republicans.

Lilliam Fernandes, a scientist who emigrated from Brazil as a student, also voted in Roxborough and said she loves living in the United States because of the opportunity to succeed. She believes that vetting at the U.S.-Mexico border needs to be robust, and she also voted for all Democrats, saying the GOP “absolutely overblow[s] the danger and the fear” of immigration.

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John Gblah, who is a pastor at Agabe International Baptist Church in Southwest Philadelphia, said he voted Tuesday because he believes the country is heading in the wrong direction, also citing immigration policy.

Gblah himself emigrated to the U.S. from Liberia 24 years ago when his home country was being ravaged by a bloody civil war.

“America, from the founding, has been a place where people come when they are being prosecuted, and they come for refuge,” Gblah said. “It’s been a place with open doors for people in trouble who are being persecuted in other countries. America is starting to lose her way.”

Tanyia Kelsey, 22, of the Frankford section of Philadelphia, said she has been spreading the word about the midterms to her friends, hoping it will push more people to their polling places.

“If more people don’t vote, I think we’re get the same results we got in 2016. Trump isn’t doing anything positive at all. He’s just reversing everything Obama spent years doing,” Kelsey said. “I guess Trump was a wake-up call for my generation that’s so used to not doing anything, ‘Yeah, somebody else will do it.’ No, you need to get up and you need to do it.”

The Delaware River in 2018. Vanessa Harris said she voted straight Democrat today, but supports a lot of the economic and immigration polices of President Trump. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

In Bartram Village, Vanessa Harris, 50, says she voted straight Democrat because their platforms are beneficial to her, but she thinks Trump is good for the economy.

“I think he did an amazing job with the economy so far and with creating new jobs. That’s the only thing good I can say regarding Trump. I am happy about that.”

Tamika Fields, 43, a property service worker from West Philly who is a member of the local service employees union, said the midterms are a referendum on the president.

“He’s a total racist. He doesn’t belong in there,” Fields said. “My message to him is: get out.”

Meanwhile, in North Philadelphia, as John Davenport walked by a polling place, he said he is ambivalent about Trump, and said he has no plans of casting a ballot.

“I see the smear campaigns against this candidate or that candidate on TV and Hulu,” said Davenport, a barber, who is in his 30s.  “I don’t know enough the candidates to cast an opinion.”

On Trump, Davenport said, “I don’t like like him or hate him. I’m just stuck with him.”

What would it take to motivate Davenport to vote?

“Maybe war,” he said. “If there was a draft, I’d start voting.”

The Penn Votes Project, which helps hospitalized patients cast emergency absentee ballots, has already cast 50 ballots today and had roughly another 30 in progress as of 3 p.m. That’s at least triple the highs they’ve seen in previous election cycles, partially because this year the program expanded to include the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in addition to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

Some problems at the polls

Pat Christmas, policy director of the watchdog group Committee of Seventy, said there have been more issues than normal with voting in Philadelphia this morning, including voting machines not yet set up for voters and election volunteers not showing up.

He said the committee gets a handful of calls every election. This morning they received 8 to 10 calls.

“I think [what’s] most disturbing is folks are leaving the polls without casting a ballot at some of these locations,” Christmas said. “In one case, poll workers [were] telling them to leave and come back later.”

Voters can ask for a provisional or paper ballot at their polling place if they run into any issues. To report problems while voting, voters can call Philadelphia’s election hotline at 215-686-1590.

What’s at stake

Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is seeking a second term, challenged by former GOP State Sen. Scott Wagner.

Three boys, ages 9, 12, 15, hand out postcards supporting Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner at a Philadelphia bus station. “I think he’s going to change the laws to make things better” the oldest said. Each said they’d earn $50 for the day. (Kevin McCorry/WHYY)

The state’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is running for a third term against Republican U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta.

New Jersey’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez is battling to save his career after escaping conviction on corruption charges last year. He faces former pharmaceutical executive and Republican candidate Bob Hugin, who’s invested more than $20 million of his own fortune in the campaign.

In Delran, NJ, the contest did not excite many people.

“Two bad choices in my mind. I went with Menendez just because he’s a Democrat,” said Don Strain, who, as a member of the Ironworker’s union, usually votes Democrat. “He’s been there a long time. Time for new blood. I’m surprised they ran him again, to be honest with you.”

Delran resident Richard Denton came to vote a straight Republican ticket, but foremost on his mind was the hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“I’m conservative. Having said that, the way Kavanaugh was treated by the Dems was abysmal,” he said. “What he had to suffer, with no proof, I thought was terrible.”

New Jersey Democrats see opportunities to pick up as many as four congressional seats statewide, two of them open due to the departures of Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen and Frank LoBiondo.

In Delaware, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper looks to secure his fourth term against Republican Rob Arlett. A Sussex County councilman, Arlett faces an uphill battle against Carper, now in his 42nd year as a statewide elected official.

First-term U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester faces an even easier path to re-election against Democrat-turned-Republican Scott Walker. The state GOP has distanced itself from Walker’s peculiar campaign after he posted several questionable Facebook videos, including one decrying plus-sized models as obese and unhealthy.

Democrats are also hoping to secure control of all six statewide posts in Delaware government by keeping the attorney general’s office, upsetting incumbent Treasurer Ken Simpler, and claiming the open seat for state auditor.

Ten seats are up for grabs in the Delaware state Senate where Democrats hold a one-seat lead, and all 41 house seats are on the ballot. Dems hold a 25-16 lead over Republicans in the House.

WHYY reporters Dave Davies, Mark Eichmann, Kevin McCorry,  Taylor Allen, Dana Bate, Bobby Allyn, Peter Crimmins, and Robby Brod contributed reporting.

This developing story will be updated.

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