Ohio voting begins

By Jed Layton, Hinckley Institute Journalism Program

COLUMBUS, Ohio8212;Jose Dixon has a fear of long lines. He doesn’t go to amusement parks, avoids the lunch rush and was dreading a potential five-hour wait to vote Nov. 4.

But in a fast moving line at the Franklin County Memorial auditorium in downtown Columbus, Dixon was able to cast his early absentee ballot in 30 minutes. A sophomore in chemistry at Ohio State University, Dixon said the short wait was nothing compared to the four years before when long lines plagued voting stations.

“I didn’t vote last election,” he said. “But I saw and heard about the long lines they had. Eight hours, or even five, is way too long to vote. I didn’t want that to happen to me.”

Dixon was joined by more than 2,000 other early voters Monday evening; each one cast an early absentee ballot. Most said they came because they feared they would not have the chance to vote on Election Day.

In the 2004 presidential election, Ohio voters dealt with machine malfunctions, under-equipped voting stations and confused volunteers, said Michael Stinziano, director of the Franklin County Board of Elections.

“People are concerned and there isn’t much trust in voting in Ohio given what we have seen in 2004,” he said.

With Ohio’s status as a key swing state, the importance of its residents’ votes become enormous, people said at the voting station.

On Oct. 6, the Washington Post-ABC News Poll showed Sen. Barack Obama leading in Ohio by six points, 51 percent for the Democratic candidate to John McCain’s 46 percent. In unveiling the new poll, the Post said no Republican president had ever been elected without winning Ohio. Political analysts are calling Ohio the second most important battleground state for McCain after Florida.

Other early voters came because it was simply more convenient. Derek Harmon, a senior in health management at Ohio State, came to vote early because his last class of the day was cancelled. He said he could not guarantee being available Nov. 4. He said he was also willing to risk voting for Obama without even seeing the second or final presidential debate.

“Seriously, I do not think four more weeks of campaigning and bad attack ads will change my vote,” Harmon said.

Others came to the voting station for more than one reason. Vanessa Straut, 42, a night student at Ohio State and a single mother, came to both register and vote on the same day. Straut had never voted or registered before and was grateful for the opportunity to take care of both at the same time. Stinziano said this was the first time Ohio had allowed voters to register and then vote the same day, but Monday was the last day to do so.

“I never felt like politics was important,” she said. “But after the recent bailout, I felt like I needed to show my disappointment in our leaders. I am voting for McCain because Obama has a lot of good ideas, but he is as risky as all of those bad mortgages people keep talking about.”

Monday’s early voters expressed a common consensus that this election is extremely important because of the economic crisis. Ohio’s significance in the election is the reason Ralph Spinter, a senior in political science at Ohio State, spent the afternoon driving students to the voting station. Spinter drove a 10-seat passenger van plastered with Obama and McCain posters and red, white and blue streamers to the station. He said he wanted to make sure every voice was heard in the election that wanted to be heard.

“The more people we can get to vote early, the less there will be on Election Day,” he said. “Hopefully the lines will not be as long and we can get a better turn out.”

Stinziano said Franklin County and other counties in Ohio have worked hard to avoid the problems of 2004. He cited increasing voting machines, obtaining knew machines and better training for volunteers as improvements to help process votes faster.

“There will be some lines if we see a historic turnout, but they won’t be as bad as they were in 2004,” he said.

[email protected]

Editor’s Note8212;Jed Layton is reporting from Columbus, Ohio through the Hinckley Institute of Politics and Shantou University Journalism Program.

Hua Qi / Hinckley Institute Journalism Program

Voters were pleased at the relatively fast moving lines during the Franklin County Memorial auditorium for early voting in Columbus, Ohio.