Early voting is now underway in Ohio – and the push to get voters to the polls started before dawn. Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler reports the campaigns have two different methods in this early voting season with one common goal – getting their voters out in bigger numbers.
It was a long night for Bethany Sanders.
SANDERS: I have been awake for most of the night.
But she wasn’t waiting for a hot new phone or concert tickets. Sanders, who works with the Ohio State Senate Democratic caucus, was camping with about two dozen other young Democrats outside Franklin County’s early voting center set up in north Columbus. Most of those are students at Ohio State University, encouraged to be there by the Democratic Party’s campus outreach. Ilhan Dahir from the Columbus suburb of Hilliard and Noel Fisher, who’s originally from Kansas, were excited to be the first two in line to vote once the center door’s opened.
DAHIR: “We definitely wanted to show how excited we were about the entire process, about the president and that students are out here, we’re engaged and we’re really interested in showing everybody that we’re going to be a major voice in this election.”
NOEL: “I’m a freshman at Ohio State so this is my first real election and it’s right here at Ground Zero for the presidential election and I am extremely excited to participate in it.”
Democrats held camp-outs like this across the state, both to raise awareness of the start of early voting and also to encourage voting at the beginning of the early voting period, since there may be no weekend voting later. A federal judge sided with Democrats and ordered the state to allow voting on the last weekend before the election, but that case is still in court. Meanwhile, Republicans weren’t standing in line to vote in big numbers today, but they were still working on their supporters.
CALLER: “Hi, this is Mary. I’m calling with a brief survey. Can Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and Josh Mandel count on your vote this November?”
Volunteers manned the phones at Romney headquarters in Columbus, reminding voters that don’t have to wait till November and could cast ballots now. Scott Jennings is the Ohio state director of the Romney for President campaign.
JENNINGS: “We actually had vote early rallies in several counties, including Franklin. We had a big crowd in Hamilton. We’ve had one in Cleveland. We’ve got the Romney-Ryan "Early Vote Express" bus that is going around the state. So we’re actually having early vote events every single day multiple times a day for the duration of October.”
Among those making those calls is Mimi Cohen of Columbus, who says she talked to several people who have a plan to wait till election day to vote.
COHEN: “These couples that have a tradition of actually going to the polls that day and voting. That they’re not – they were, some of them were wary of what happened in Florida of the voting by mail. They want to be there that day.”
Sitting next to her is Marty Federico of Columbus.
FEDERICO: “It is quiet enthusiasm but very definitely enthusiasm. And they have definitely got their minds made up.”
In most counties, voters will go to their regular boards of elections offices to cast ballots if they don’t want to mail them in. But in a handful of counties, the boards have set up early voting centers. Back at the one in Franklin County, which is in an 80,000 square foot old department store, spokesman Ben Piscatelli says he thinks all this space might be needed.
PISCATELLI: “Well, if past elections are any indication, there will be a lot of excitement early on. Then it will slow down a little bit, then it will build as we get toward election day. At about the halfway point of this first day, we had nearly 700 people show up to vote in person, and that’s almost as many as we had voting the entire first day of absentee voting in 2008. And that was a record turnout.”
This is the so-called "golden week," when voters can register and vote on the same day. The Secretary of State sent out nearly 7 million applications for absentee ballots, and local boards have received more than 922,000 of them. About 30 percent of voters cast ballots early in the presidential election of 2008, and board of elections breakdowns show more Democrats voted early in person, while more Republicans voted early by mail.