CENTREVILLE, Va. -- For Marva Williams, voting the incumbents out and the challengers in wasn't a bold enough act of protest.
The AT&T project manager, a Democrat and mother of a 7-year-old, was so sick of the mudslinging, so angry at the gridlock, so dissatisfied with her choices that she went behind the curtain yesterday and, voting to fill a U.S. Senate seat, wrote in the name of the only person she felt had her best interests in mind: Marva Williams.
"You say to yourself: 'What is it with these people? What is going on here?' " says Ms. Williams, who also told her friends to write in their own names as an act of defiance. "They have all lost sight of the fact that they're here for the people."
Voters around the country went to the polls yesterday in a cranky, ornery disposition.
Even here in Fairfax County, where the median household income of $59,284 is among the highest in the nation, voters said they felt burdened by taxes, under-served by their politicians, fearful about crime, disgusted with negativity, worried that the country was in moral decline.
And they were looking, with a push of a button or a pull of a lever, for change.
"I want 'em out of there," said Robert Behan, a criminal defense lawyer and former Democrat, who charged out of the gymnasium at Deer Park Elementary School and over to his Mercedes. "The only chance I have to change things is to vote Republican. I'm rTC not satisfied with what's been going on."
Mr. Behan bemoaned what he called a loss of cultural standards. "I spend all my time trying to defend people who are indefensible because they haven't been brought up right. There are no standards anymore, and I'm good and sick of it."
He said he was also angry that, as he watched the country going down the drain, he also watched about 46 percent of his income, which he paid in taxes last year, go with it.
In this affluent Northern Virginia suburb, voters had their minds in their pocketbooks.
"It's money; it all boils down to money," said Saundra White, a manager for a radiology association, and another voter who stormed out of the polling place in a furor.
Ms. White, an independent who voted yesterday for GOP Senate candidate Oliver L. North as a "partial protest," said she became enraged when she saw a TV report about a woman who received $30,000 a year in Social Security benefits because she claimed that her three children were emotionally disturbed.
"Well, guess what? I'm emotionally disturbed. Aren't we all?" Ms. White said. "What's going to happen when I'm ready to collect Social Security? I've worked a lot of years. I expect some of it to be there. But the government is robbing me of part of my pay to support drug addicts and alcoholics. Something is severely wrong with the system."
Few here were oblivious to the recent string of rapes in Centreville, and a number of voters, some with pepper-spray canisters on their key chains, said they resented paying so much in taxes and getting so little protection.
Many cited crime as a grave concern. But issues that loomed large in previous elections, such as abortion, seemed almost lost yesterday, as voters focused on money, personalities and a desire for change at any cost.
"I'm pro-choice, but I'm overlooking it," said Larry Mayman, another independent who voted yesterday for Mr. North, a staunch anti-abortion rights Republican.
Mr. Mayman, a telecommunications consultant, believes Republicans will better protect his interests as a small businessman, even though he acknowledges that he has not paid more taxes under the Clinton administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress.
"It would be nice to keep more of my money," says Mr. Mayman, a father of two. "If I continue to work hard and be successful, the government will take more of my money, so I'm really looking out for my future."
On the other side of the political fence, Mark Von Wehrden, who considers himself an independent, came out for Democrats yesterday, citing his fear of Mr. North, and specifically the conservative, religious-based ideology the candidate embraces.
"I'm a little scared by the Republican right," said Mr. Von Wehrden, a photojournalist who lost his job in the past year because of staff cuts at United Press International.
He believes the rise in what he calls the electorate's "hostility index" stems from such gut-level fears about the ideological direction of the country. In his back yard, for example, conservative activists recently tried, and failed, to limit minors' access to books in Fairfax County libraries on such issues as homosexuality, violence and the occult.
"Today, the most important issue for me is this drift to the right. Not that [Sen. Charles S.] Robb is the epitome of virtue, but I'm convinced the tilt to the right is absolutely the wrong way to go."