By Doug Ireland
---- — Voter turnout was heavy throughout Southern New Hampshire yesterday, creating long lines and causing major delays at polls in some towns.
The polls were scheduled to close at 7 p.m. in Salem, but hundreds of voters were still lined up in the cold outside the Ingram Senior Center. Voters were also still waiting to cast ballots at Mary Fisk School. There were traffic jams at both locations, with voters parking on the grass and sidewalks.
In Londonderry, people waited in line for an hour and a half to register to vote. The last vote was cast at Londonderry High School at 9:53 p.m., nearly two hours after the polls were to close. Voting went smoothly — despite brief waits — in other area towns.
Some Salem voters waited in line at least an hour and a half. The last votes were cast about 8 p.m. but those people had to be either in line or walking up to the polls at 7 p.m., town moderator Chris Goodnow said.
Same-day voter registration and complying with the state’s new Voter ID Law contributed to the delays, along with the need to count an unprecedented number of absentee ballots, election officials said.
But the heavy turnout, projected by Secretary of State William Gardner to exceed 70 percent statewide, was mostly due to strong interest in the presidential and gubernatorial races.
Preliminary numbers showed a voter turnout of 88 percent in Derry and at least 80 percent in Londonderry. Hampstead had 83 percent, Atkinson had 82 percent and Plaistow had 80.2 percent.
Before the election, Gardner predicted about 722,000 Granite Staters would vote. The previous record was in 2008 — when roughly 719,000 voted. Statewide totals were not available last night.
Election officials throughout the area said there were no problems complying with the Voter ID Law. Ballot workers asked voters to have their photo IDs ready when checking in.
The majority of voters remembered to bring their IDs, with only a small percentage having to fill out an affidavit, election officials said. The big problem was the large number of people registering to vote at the polls, causing delays.
“Everybody — and I mean everybody — has had their IDs,” said Bernard Campbell, assistant moderator at Mary Fisk School in Salem. “But there have been a lot of people registering to vote. There has been a boatload of them.”
At least 100,000 New Hampshire residents were expected to register to vote at the polls, according to Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan.
Scanlan said Monday that some voters were confused about the Voter ID Law, especially after a newspaper published a story last week that said the law would not be in effect yesterday.
Many voters interviewed at the polls said the new law was long overdue, including Scott Bourque of Hampstead.
“I came here two or three years ago — nobody asked for my ID,” he said. “I thought it was crazy. I think you should show your ID to be able to vote.”
Eric Cordeiro of Pelham also voiced his approval.
“I liked it better,” Cordeiro said. “Everybody should use the ID.”
Claire Breton of Windham had to retrieve her ID from her car, but she didn’t mind.
“I think this is the right thing to do,” she said.
Salem, Derry and Londonderry were among the towns reporting large numbers of people registering to vote.
Approximately 300 new voters signed up at Pinkerton Academy in Derry during the last few hours the polls were open. Londonderry registered some 1,200 new voters.
“It’s been busy,” Derry checklist supervisor Judy Strakalaitis said.
Turnout was steady throughout the day at most polling places, with voters lining up outside the door before the locations opened.
The largest numbers of voters came early in the morning or after 5 p.m., election officials said.
In Atkinson, traffic on Route 121 slowed to a crawl as voters flocked to the Atkinson Community Center before it closed.
Staff writers John Toole, Julie Huss, James Niedzinski and Duston Luca contributed to this report.