CLEVELAND, Ohio – As she hovered along the sidewalk a few hundred yards from the front door of the Cuyahoga County Electoral Council this week, Sharletha Langford chuckled for a bit at the time she had invested in voting. It had taken about half an hour so far, and it looked like it would take at least that much longer to get to the polls.
Langford opted for early voting mainly because she knew her retail store job and childcare responsibilities would have been difficult to balance on Tuesday. Waiting in line Thursday morning in downtown Cleveland seemed like a good option, even as the city finds itself stuck in the throes of the resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I thought it would have been quicker to do this, but maybe it isn’t,” she told The Daily Beast with a smile.
Langford and other voters said the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in Ohio was a key factor in their decision to vote early. A man online, who resides in the suburbs and declined to give his name, put it bluntly: “I bet the vote will be safer now than next week.”
But the specter of right-wing shenanigans also loomed large, in part thanks to recent local history. An aspiring shadow governor has been charged with plotting to kidnap and arrest Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, while Tory clowns Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl were recently charged with alleged robocalls of intimidation of voters in the state.
Meanwhile, Ohio finds itself returning to its traditional status as a flagship state.
The last time a presidential candidate won Ohio and lost the general election was Richard Nixon in 1960. But Donald Trump won Ohio by about 8 points in 2016, even though he lost the national popular vote. It has defied recent electoral history: in the four elections between 2000 and 2012, the winners (Barack Obama and George W. Bush) won the Ohio vote and the popular vote in all but one case. It was in 2000, when Bush won Ohio by 3.5 points and Democratic candidate Al Gore won the popular vote.
Like many states, Ohio has seen a surge in early voting this fall. Statewide, as of Tuesday, there had been more than 743,000 in-person advance votes compared to about 289,000 on the same date in 2016. There had also been nearly 3.2 million requests for postal votes received. by the state, up from about 1.6 million in Ohio in 2016.
The trends were similar in Cuyahoga County, where about 45,000 advance votes were cast at the county’s BOE and about 340,000 mail-in ballots requested Thursday night, or about 38% of registered voters in the county. The final counts are expected to be all-time highs.
As in states from Texas to Wisconsin, COVID-19 safety precautions colored the process. Voters were required to wear masks to vote, and all had their temperatures taken (on their wrists) before they were allowed to enter the building.
As for the intimidation, several Election Commission “rovers” (with “Vote” on their face masks) marched the lines outside to make sure there was no campaign of any kind. And no campaign vehicle was broadcasting yelling messages from voters as they lined up, despite reports of aggressive activity in this direction from Florida to Virginia.
One way Ohio mirrors other GOP-dominated states: the beef at the ballot box.
The Cuyahoga County Democratic Party is not happy that the state has limited the ballot boxes to one per county at the local election board. They believe that more drop-off boxes in inner-city minority neighborhoods would mean more voter turnout.
“To say that we are important in this election is an understatement, and if you don’t think for a minute that this was taken into consideration in relation to the crackdown on the Secretary of State, I suggest you rethink it” Shontel Brown said at a recent press conference.
Of course, those running an election in Ohio insist their plan means public safety – and access – won’t be compromised. “Elections have simply never been more accessible and secure than this year,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose wrote recently. “The vote is safe and we are ready.”
Mark West, director of community outreach for the Cuyahoga County Electoral Board, echoed LaRose’s sentiment. Specifically, he suggested that tolerance was low for chicanery of any kind despite the fears of MAGA poll watchers and other wrongdoing.
“If a violation of these [rules] happens, these people will be invited to leave, ”West said. “If they don’t leave, they will be forced to. Every state works this way, so I tell people not to worry about security issues while voting because it is not allowed.
Far more than right-wing activity, however, the virus in a Midwestern hot spot dominated the minds of voters not only in their candidate size, but also in when they got their votes.
Joe, who works at a non-profit agency in Cleveland and declined to give his last name, expressed fear the epidemic in the city would spiral when explaining his early voting on Friday.
“The surge in COVID-19 infections made me vote early like this,” he told the Daily Beast. “We don’t know what to expect next Tuesday, but it looks like the chances of infection will be worse.”
Voter after voter, it seemed that instituting best practices in crowded early polls was very good. But the outbreak was heading in the wrong direction, and the vote was widely seen as something better done and left in the rearview mirror, as long queues again suggested on Friday – around the block.
As George Hunter, a Cleveland lawyer who lives in the suburb of Shaker Heights, put it in Friday’s vote: “With the infection records set in Ohio right now, getting the vote early is definitely a way. to face the uncertainty of next week. . “
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