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Marino Eccher and Helmut Schmidt, Published November 06 2012

UPDATED: A rush and then a trickle as polls open in Fargo, West Fargo, Moorhead

Long early lines gave way to a steady trickle of voters in Fargo and Moorhead as Election Day voting rumbled into action.

At Atonement Lutheran Church in South Fargo, voters were “lined up out the door” before the polls opened at 7 a.m., said Lynn Harrie, the site’s election inspector.

The crunch had dissipated by 8 a.m., giving way to the intermittent whir of voting machines accepting completed ballots.

At Concordia College’s Knutson Campus Center, only about 30 students had voted by 8 a.m., said head election judge Ryan Mahon.

“We’re doing well,” said Mahon, who said he and his crew are all first-time election judges.

Mahon said he expected things to heat up at Concordia around noon.

At the Hjemkomst Center, only about half of the polling stations had voters voting about 8:25 a.m.

At West Acres Mall, where the common area in front of Macy’s had been transformed into an impromptu polling station, things were considerably slower. Election Inspector Paula Thomas said the site would probably draw lighter traffic throughout the day because the city’s two early voting locations were both nearby.

“People who live in this area probably voted already,” she said.

They were not alone: North Dakota election officials reported at least 132,000 people had already voted before Election Day, a record for the state.

That total represents about a quarter of the state’s eligible voters, and more than 40 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the 2008 presi-dential election.

Thomas said election officials from the Scheels Arena site a few miles away had come by earlier in the day to borrow one of her poll workers because the Scheels site was much busier.

Around 9:30 a.m., it was one of the few locations around town that still had a line, albeit a short and brisk one.

At West Fargo City Hall, Torey Koppelman, the local election inspector, said turnout had been steady throughout the day. Most of the location’s two dozen or so voting seats were filled around 9:45 a.m.

Tuesday was also marked as the first Election Day in decades on which the state’s ban on Election Day campaigning did not apply.

A federal judge effectively struck down the longstanding law following a challenge from former North Dakota Republican chairman Gary Emineth. The decision paved the way for advertisements, yard signs and other campaign materials that traditionally have disappeared on Election Day here.

Within the polling places, there were few overt signs that partisans intended to test the limits of their newfound freedoms. And, the glut of yard signs that had dotted the city leading up to Tuesday were in large part gone.

A few odd pockets remained in support of candidates on both sides of the aisle, along with a few billboards supporting local candidates that previously would have been disallowed.

Meanwhile, a few hundred feet away from the polling site at Moorhead's Hjemkomst Center, at the busy corner of First Avenue North and Third Street, Dallas Fischer waved a sign urging voters to choose Phil Hansen for the state Senate.

Fischer said he had staked out the corner a couple hours earlier.

“I’ve been helping them out through the campaign,” the Alexandria, Minn., man said. “Now we have to make a big push for the last day.”

Fischer said there were a couple of other Hansen supporters on the streets, as a couple of drivers honked and waved.

“Lots of honks,” Fischer said of motorists’ encouragement. “More thumbs up than honks.”