They waited for hours, hunched deep inside jackets, shuffling cold toes along the sidewalk.
Darkness came. Raindrops fell. And still they waited, some as long as five hours to cast a vote at the Dr. Clarence V. Cuffee Community Center in Chesapeake.
"This is just horrible," said Rashell Hobbs, a 19-year-old first-time voter. "There is no reason it should take this long."
At 7 p.m., when the polls officially closed, roughly 1,000 citizens were still waiting at the South Norfolk polling station.
"These people are stalwart," said Patricia Jessamy, a volunteer voter advocate who had been at the center since 5 a.m.
Poll workers said that each precinct in Chesapeake was issued just two polling books or laptops to check in voters - leaving a bottleneck at places like the Cuffee Center, where voters turned out in force. Long lines at the heavily black precinct drew national attention in 2008, when complaints to an Election Protection Coalition hotline spotlighted the center as "one of the worst" voting situations in the country.
A block party hosted by the Obama campaign, complete with a DJ, helped people pass the time.
"Go vote! We've got hot cocoa and fried chicken," the DJ yelled over the hip-hop music.
An official with the Obama campaign said there were five block parties around the state, three in Hampton Roads. The festivities had been planned for weeks.
The Cuffee Center's harried chief election officer said two extra check-in computers were sent over as the day wore on, and the line began to move faster. At closing time, he estimated that 1,600 voters had been processed and promised to keep the lights on until everyone still waiting had cast their votes.
Chesapeake was not the only city with long lines. At Norfolk's Larchmont polling station, nearly 1,000 were still waiting to vote as dark fell. In Virginia Beach, the lines at Green Run High School were up to four hours long.
At Greenbrier Middle School in Chesapeake, voters waited for up to three hours.
"You are denying my right to vote," said Laura Levine, who had been waiting an hour and 40 minutes at Greenbrier. She called the city Voter Registrar's Office to complain. "Not everyone has the flexibility to stand in line and vote."
The city's general registrar, William "Al" Spradlin, said the holdup in any election - especially a presidential one - is the check-in process.
Poll workers must verify names, addresses and other details before voters can get their ballots.
Spradlin said he looks at a list of the city's 64 precincts, the number of registered voters and voting history when he decides how to parcel out voting equipment.
"If I had to do this four years down the road, I'd probably start a little heavier in the big precincts with the electronic poll books so I don't have to go through the trouble of adding them," he said. "I'd start with three at Cuffee and three at Greenbrier."
A couple with a 7-month-old girl said they had not expected to wait in line three hours at Greenbrier.
"I had to leave to feed her twice," said Erica O'Neal, who voted with her husband, Jayce, and baby, Seren.
"It was a marathon," Jayce O'Neal said after he voted. "By the time I got up there, I forgot who I was voting for."
Another hiccup at the Cuffee Center came when a precinct worker misinformed voters.
Shane Murphy, a volunteer with Election Protection, a coalition of voter rights advocacy groups, said he saw a precinct worker stand on a chair and tell the crowd that people who had registered to vote for the first time by mail would have to show two forms of identification. That was wrong - voters needed to show only one form of ID.
Murphy said that his group informed the worker and that he acknowledged his error and clarified the regulation for waiting voters.
"I don't think there was any malfeasance or intended harm," he said. "From what we could tell, it was simply a matter of having the wrong information."
Pilot writers Veronica Gonzalez, Joanne Kimberlin, Dave Forster, Sarah Hutchins, Clay Barbour and Marjon Rostami contributed to this report.