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Voters in east Philadelphia endured hours-long lines to the ballot

Free pizza can only keep spirits so high.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA — For much of Election Day, dozens of polling places around South, West, and North Philadelphia had no lines at all. But Temple University students — many of them first-time voters — faced some daunting waits, standing in a two-hour anomaly when they tried to vote in person. In the Northern Liberties neighborhood, there were more than 150 still in line at 8 p.m., and many had been waiting hours already.

The Penrose Recreation Center, near Temple, hosts three voting districts in two rooms, and each district has two voting machines. Two of the districts were lightly but steadily trafficked, similar to what many observed throughout the rest of the city. From the other room snaked an enormous line that first spilled out of the rec center’s courtyard east on Susquehanna Street. By 5:40 p.m., the line had curved around the block, moving glacially.

All of a sudden the line began to move quickly, leading to subdued optimism from the crowd. Yet the line was just being reorganized to loop around the courtyard. The two- to three-hour waits still lay ahead.

Some voters approached the line, balked and left. Several of them did not appear to be students, and thus wouldn’t have had to wait in the long line.

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“One of the biggest turnouts I’ve ever seen,” Gerald Wright, a poll worker stationed outside the center, told ThinkProgress. Wright had done similar poll work for the past five years.

“And they waited — they did,” Wright said, with a note of respect. No one got upset, and most sat quietly in line. “They’ve been very, very patient.”

Temple University students Julia Pinter, Kieran Lyons, and Ellie Hilty, told ThinkProgress this was the first time they had ever voted. They were visibly disappointed by the wait, but stayed in line.

“You hear that the millennial vote means so much, and then it’s kind of disappointing to see this,” Hilty said. “I’m still gonna wait, I still want my vote to count.”

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“I’m half an hour late for a group project right now,” Kieran said, “But I’m trying to hold out for as long as I can. And if not, I’ll be right back at the end of the line.”

Eventually, dozens of boxes of pizzas began to appear, delivered by the Democratic coordinated campaign (the Clinton campaign and state party). Then came the giant platters of hoagies. The students stuck it out.

Elsewhere, in the Northern Liberties neighborhood on the east side of town, a line of more than 150 would-be voters tried to keep jovial as the clock hit 8 p.m. Many had been waiting for close to two hours, in lines split according to the first letter of the voter’s last name.

None left.

Erik Brown, 29, would be voting in his third presidential election. An accountant who moved into the city three years ago from nearby Delaware County, Brown said he’d tried to vote before work. “The line was just as long at 7:30” in the morning, he said. “My boyfriend and I got here almost two hours ago. But his last name starts with M, so he was done in 10 minutes.”

Others waiting are also relatively new to this part of Philadelphia. Nia Johnson, 23, works with fifth graders across the river in Camden, New Jersey, with Teach for America. “People have been nice, giving out hot chocolate,” she said. Not that she needs the extra incentive. “It just baffles me that [Trump] is really the Republican nominee,” she said.

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She waited next to Henrietta Hanson, 22, a fellow TFA teacher who works with second graders and who is new to the area. “I’m hangry,” she said with a chuckle, “but I’m not going anywhere.”

Voters and officials tried to stay upbeat. Volunteers were handing out pizza; A man with a bottle of beer in a brown paper bag was playing music on his phone and cheering, presumably in hopes of cultivating a party atmosphere for his fellow line-standers.

And the line inched along.