AMHERST — Before dawn Tuesday morning at North Tonawanda City Hall, things were already bustling.
Judy Niemiec and her fellow election inspectors were there hours before the 6 a.m. poll opening for Election Day, readying voting machines and making sure everything was ready to go.
Niemiec, who's been serving as an inspector for three years now, said there's been a lot to learn with the electronic voting machines and other changes.
"That's why the four of us work together as a team," she said. "But we're ready. We're ready."
The first person waiting to vote at City Hall was Jim Chiodo, a Korean War veteran who's lived his entire life on Ganson Street in North Tonawanda. A morning person, he said that he's often the first voter in line on Election Day.
"It's my patriotic duty to do," he said, "and I'm going to do it."
Five people were waiting when the polls officially opened. One of them was Sheryl Fleming, who stopped by before going to work to be sure she got the opportunity.
"It's going to be so close this year, and everybody's vote is going to count," she said. "I thought there would be lines already."
Fleming said that she'd called all her friends and encouraged them to vote today.
"Four more years of what we're been getting ... I can't take it," she said. "If it hasn't worked, I have to change it."
After the first handful of people, the pattern settled into a steady trickle of voters, many of whom were casting votes before heading off to work or school. One of the earliest was Erin Robinson, a professor at Canisius College.
"I wanted to get here early; I was actually anticipating lines and a little bit of chaos," she said. "I just really wanted to make sure my vote for president was cast, cast early and cast right."
Robinson said that she voted for Democrats across the line, but wanted to stress the importance of voting at all.
"I hope people come out and vote, regardless of who they choose to vote for ... that they exercise that right," she said.
By 6:30 a.m., short lines had formed. The Scime family, including Daniel, 7, and Sophia, 9, stopped by to vote before leaving on a trip to Washington, D.C. Tara Scime said the children get school extra credit for voting with their parents.
"I think one of the most important reasons to vote is to teach our children," she said. "It's important to know you have a choice."
Daniel agreed. "You have to have a reason," he said.
By 7 a.m. at the City of Tonawanda High School polling place, things had slowed, but voting remained steady ... perhaps a little steadier than usual, said Terry Hutter, an election inspector for the past four years.
"It's hard to tell until the end of the day," he said.
Carolyn Kirsch cast her ballot early and said that she was pleased to do so.
"I appreciate the fact that we get to vote here in the United States," she said. "It's the time of the year I feel part of the democracy we're so fortunate to have."
Polls are open until 9 p.m. To find your polling place in Erie County, visit www.erieboe.com/precinctfinder.aspx. In Niagara County, visit vic.ntsdata.com/niagaraboe/pollingplacelookup.aspx.