Alejandro Fandiño awoke at 3 a.m. on Sunday and drove from his home in Dover, N.J., to the Venezuelan Consulate in New York, hoping to be first in line to vote in Venezuela’s presidential election.
Mr. Fandiño, 26, who arrived with his mother, stepfather, sister and an aunt, waited for two and a half hours in the cold, damp autumnal darkness before the polls opened. He was the first in line, yet just before he went inside to vote for his candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, he ceded his spot to a woman from Caracas, Venezuela named María.
She said that she had flown 14 hours from Geneva so she could vote in New York and that her return flight left in 45 minutes.
They were among many Venezuelan expatriates who took part in the election.
Mr. Capriles, a state governor, is seen as the first serious challenger to the longtime incumbent, Hugo Chávez, who came to power in 1998 but is facing mounting criticism over high murder rates and persistent food and energy shortages.
In February, before Mr. Capriles, who has campaigned as a moderate alternative to the left-wing policies of Mr. Chávez, won a critical primary that united the opposition, there were only 56,000 Venezuelans registered to vote abroad. Today, the number is 100,495, according to the Council of the Americas, an educational and economic development organization.
According to the consulate in New York, some 3,500 people are registered to vote there — more than three times as many as those who voted in the 2006 election. The sidewalk outside the consulate, at 51st Street and Madison Avenue, was jammed by 5:15 a.m. The consulate said that 2,487 people had voted by the end of day.
Voters walked from their homes in Midtown, drove in from Vermont and flew in from Europe. Venezuelan election law requires that all voting be done in person with voters dipping thumbs in black ink to verify their identity.
“It brings hope,” said Mr. Fandiño, a flight attendant, who added that he, like others, had been awakened from a deep political apathy. “It brings a lot of beautiful things to the country, it brings a lot of excitement. Because I’ll tell you, a government cannot be in power for so long. Fourteen years? That’s not democracy.”
Mr. Fandiño, who grew up in the rainy city of San Cristóbal, Venezuela in what he described as a middle class family, said he had never voted before. He moved to the United States as a teenager, prompted, he said, by rising violence and declining economic opportunity. Another aunt, who ran a pharmacy, was robbed several times and assaulted. And, he added, a teenage cousin was kidnapped and killed about a decade ago.
By 11:30 a.m., the line of Venezuelans snaked down East 51st Street, curving onto Madison Avenue and then twisting onto East 52nd Street. Many of the voters were students from middle-class and wealthy class families, and they rattled off stories of so-called express kidnappings — in which people are abducted and forced to make purchases or take money out of A.T.M’s.
Aymara León, a medical technologist who lives in Vorhees, N.J., said she voted for Mr. Chávez in his first campaign, did not vote at all in 2006, and was now firmly for Mr. Capriles.
“I voted for him in 1998 because he was the change,” she said of Mr. Chávez, speaking in Spanish. “There was a lot of corruption, he was a young guy, very sensitive, he wasn’t from the same government we’d had, but he’s turned bad now, power has sickened him.”
The Venezuelan community in New York and in the United States overall, has grown significantly since Mr. Chávez took power, and those who live abroad tend to be from economically mobile families who can afford to move.
Despite election rules that prohibit any campaigning within 650 feet of the consulate, dozens of voters chanted slogans and wore the red, blue and gold baseball caps that have become the trademark of the Capriles campaign.
Directly across the street, a family of four who are supporters of Mr. Chávez calmly made their case for the president.
“Overall we have seen that what he has said, he has done,” said Ramiro Villafane, 27, a human resources consultant who lives in Corona, Queens. “He has built houses, he pretty much democratized the health system for all citizens in the country.”
His father, also named Ramiro Villafane, was a businessman in Venezuela and now does building maintenance in Queens. He said that many of those voting against Mr. Chávez in New York were college students who had benefited from the education subsidies the president had pushed through.
Mr. Fandiño, after he voted, said he would go home with his family to watch election coverage while his mother made arepas, a traditional Venezuelan corn meal cake, in this case stuffed with cheese, ham and eggs.
“My mom was actually thinking about doing a paella,” said Mr. Fandiño, “and I was like, ’What do you think you are, Spanish?’ I’m like ‘Make some arepas!’”