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Election day 5 a.m.: Early morning voters at Cote Brilliante

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 4, 2008 - Dorothy Ward said she could not sleep at all Monday night.

"It was the anticipation, the excitement of Election Day," said the St. Louis woman who described herself as "40ish" and an employee of the Sara Lee bakery office in Earth City.

"I just couldn't wait to see the whole day start up and go through and then come to an end.

"I am excited," she said. "I am very much excited."

Ward walked to New Cote Brilliante Church on Washington Avenue and, by 3:30 a.m., had taken her position at the head of a line that would grow to more than 150 people by the time the doors were open to voters at 6 a.m.

She brought a sweater and a handful of magazines, but the darkness outside the church made reading impossible.

The streetlights along Washington cast a soft amber light on the sidewalk, as early morning traffic moved along Skinker.

Among the other early arrivals Tuesday were Jonathan and Rochelle Smith, married 24 years. Rochelle Smith, a manager of diversity programs at Washington University, said she came early out of a sense of honor for her parents and grandparents.

"I remember the struggles of the '60s and all that they had to do to even get the right to vote and to be considered a human being, let alone be able to vote for an African American for president.

"My husband wanted to be first, but this nice woman was first and so he was second. And I will be third.

"It is like Christmas for us, only bigger. It is a new day, after eight years of being forgotten, and realizing now that someone actually cares, someone I can feel comfortable with.

"It is like Christmas, only it is so much more."

Billy Handmaker, 47, head of Crossroads College Prep, also arrived about an hour before the polls opened at Cote Brilliante. Handmaker said this election had become a family affair. He, his wife and their sons -- Simon, 11, and Lev, 9 --- canvassed together and attended the Obama rally under the Gateway Arch. Simon Handmaker, in fact, was so enthusiastic about the election that he awoke before 5 a.m. to be there with his father when he voted.

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