Ward 2 Warden Maureen Fisher arrived at St. Peter's Catholic Church at 10 minutes before 6 a.m. to set up for the day's voting. By 7 a.m., when she opened the doors, the line of voters extended through the parking lot all the way to St. Peter's Street.
"This is the busiest I have ever seen it," said Fisher, who has been working the polls as part of City Clerk Cheryl Lapointe's team for 17 years. "Everybody has been happy. We've had no problems."
Before 10 a.m., 387 voters had cast their ballot. Across the room, another 250 voters had already shown up to help decide who would be the next President, U.S. Senator, U.S. House Member, State Senator and Member of the Governor's Council for Salem.
Most people in the lines said they were weary of all the campaign advertising and media coverage, but were excited to vote in what some called a momentous election.
Across the city at the Bentley School, Ward 1, the crowd at 7 a.m. extended down the parking lot past the dumpster, the police officers said.
Outside were dozens of people holding signs for their favorite candidates and waving at cars as voters entered the school parking lot. The atmosphere remained friendly, but most of the Republican sign holders stood across the driveway from the Democrats.
Linda Koumpas was holding a sign for two of her favorite candidates -- Joan Lovely, running for her first term as state senator, and John Keenan, D-Salem, running for reelection to the state House.
"They are both such wonderful people," Koumpas said.
She braved the cold in the morning to hold the signs. Her husband was on deck for the duty in the afternoon, she said.
Asked why she did it, she said, "Because we can. Isn't this a great country?"
Deborah Schneider, an ardent U.S. Rep. John Tierney, D-Salem, supporter, said she believes it is her "civic responsibility" to work in campaigns.
Grant Herring, a Tierney campaign worker, said he had been at the school, which is one of the city's largest precincts, since the polls opened at 7. The parking lot has been full for the whole morning, he said.
Precinct 1 Warden Margaret O'Brien said this year's turnout seemed to be larger than when President Obama was elected in 2008. Before 10 a.m., 470 people had voted there, plus another 145 at Precinct 2.
Barbara Szemanski, who was working the polls at Bentley, said, "Sometimes we won't get that many voters in a whole day."
Jane Stewart was the lone support for Senator Scott Brown, R-MA, and congressional candidate Richard Tisei at the Temple Shalom, Ward 5, on Lafayette Street.
"We are at a tipping point in this country," she said. "Our values, the spirit of people to come here and make something of themselves are being eroded," she said.
She said she fears that America will follow the path of Greece and be unable to sustain its debt. "(Gov. Mitt) Romney will put our country back on the road. We have been on a detour," Stewart said.
Ward 6 at the Parks and Recreation Building at Mack Park was also seeing brisk traffic. The poll workers said every voting booth had been filled all morning.
Outside Dan Brennan was holding a sign for Tisei. He was the only one who had braved the cold wind at Mack Park.
"There used to be more when we voted at the firehouse," he said. "Now people think it is too cold." At 11 a.m., he took a break to go read his USA Today, but he planned to be back on his lonely vigil for the afternoon voting rush.
The campaign sign holders were not limited to the city's seven polling places. Several people held signs outside the MBTA station on Washington urging them to vote for their candidates. And down the street in front of the U.S. Post Office, a busy intersection, several men were holding large signs for Lovely and Tierney.