For thousands of voters in Ohio, Election Day is going to be a day of rest — because they worked hard to vote on Sunday.
Thousands stood in long lines at voting sites in northeast Ohio, in southwest Ohio and in central Ohio. But the Franklin County Early Voting Center may have had the most carnival-like atmosphere.
It was set up along a six-lane thoroughfare near an interstate in an old department store. The idea was to create easy access with lots of free parking. But that wasn’t the case on Sunday. Traffic was backed up nearly a mile in both directions, and parking was at a premium — some voters parked across the street and dodged cars as they ran across six lanes to reach the polling station.
And once there, it was hard to find the end of the line. It went from the front of the building past two other closed stores, then around the side, then back to an apartment complex. Then it snaked back beside a big-box furniture store and weaved through rows of parked cars.
The scene was not unexpected. It was the only weekend voting in Ohio for the 2012 cycle, and it only came to pass after a lengthy court battle between Ohio’s Republican secretary of state and, in part, the Obama campaign that ended at the U.S. Supreme Court. The court said ballots could be cast on the final weekend before the election.
And so a scene unfolded. A volunteer in a Democratic Party T-shirt called new arrivals to the end of the line with a bullhorn, as a Republican volunteer stood by and tried to hand out sample ballots. All along the line, activists tried to get voters’ attention with activities that ranged from the expected to the bizarre. There were dancing people costumed as Sesame Street characters, in a clear effort to remind voters that Republican Mitt Romney doesn’t support federal funding for public television.
There was a Lincoln impersonator in a Democratic Party T-shirt. There were mimes performing choreographed routines to religious music. There were abortion rights and anti-abortion activists carrying dueling signs and following each other around. There were food trucks. And there was even a man selling election-related trinkets for those who wanted to remember the 2012 election.
The wait to get to the front door was easily 90 minutes, and once inside, another massive line with another 90-minute wait to reach a voting booth.
But most people were in good spirits, resigned to the wait for the opportunity to cast their ballot early. However, with all the passion, there were a few arguments. Many started around the signs carried by the abortion rights and anti-abortion activists. A lone advocate in a heavy-duty outdoor worksuit and ball cap carrying a pro-Romney sign got into a shouting match with an Obama supporter while observers chanted “PBS! PBS!”
With all this going on, the quiet inside the building was almost jarring.
In the end, the long line kept moving. A Board of Elections spokesman said about 800 people were voting each hour. A total of 3,700 people voted during the four hours the Franklin site was open on Sunday — though it had to stay open late to accommodate those who were in line when it closed at 5 p.m.
About 15,000 voters cast ballots at this site this weekend, though those who did so on Friday or Saturday weren’t treated to the entertainment that marked Sunday.
Karen Kasler is chief of the Statehouse News Bureau for Ohio Public Radio and Television.