How Early Voting Prevented Ohioans From Choosing Between Their Paycheck And Their Vote

DAYTON, Ohio — “Today is the first day in the last seven that I’ve been outside,” David Ellis, a heavy-set African American man, told me as he waited at the back of the line in Springfield to vote. Ellis had just been released from the hospital earlier that day following major surgery. “I can’t stand out here long,” he said as he leaned on his black cane.

What if there weren’t early voting on Monday, I asked.

“I would’ve been a no-vote,” Ellis said, letting out a hearty chuckle.

Whether he knew it or not, Ellis came within a hair’s breadth of being a no-vote. For the past few months, Secretary of State Jon Husted has fought to eliminate the final three days of early voting in Ohio. His efforts were mostly blocked by a federal appeals court, but Husted succeeded in restricting voting hours on those final days leading up to November 6th. In total, 1.6 million Ohioans had voted early through Sunday, but because of the limited hours (Sunday voting was just 1-5pm), extremely long lines were commonplace.

ThinkProgress traveled around southwest Ohio Monday, when voters were allowed to cast ballots from 8am to 2pm, to speak with people waiting in line at early polling locations.

Voters in line at the 1.5-hour wait mark in Greene County

“I got work tomorrow,” explained Rob, who’s employed at a marketing firm in Cincinnati, at the early voting center in Greene County. He wasn’t sure if his boss would have allowed him time off to vote tomorrow, considering the hour-long commute between work and his polling station. “I might not have been able to vote without Monday voting,” he said.

However, the shortened early voting hours brought about long lines. In Greene County, the line stretched approximately two hours this morning. One older gentleman was forced to leave after standing in line for 20 minutes. “Too long a wait and I got a bad hip,” he explained as he limped back to his car. He hoped he would be able to make it out on Tuesday, but wasn’t sure.

Still, some took the long lines in good cheer. “A little line never hurt nobody!” offered Shirley Martin, a middle-aged woman from nearby Yellow Springs.

In Clark County, home to Springfield, a minority-heavy city decimated by the decades-long decline in manufacturing jobs, the line stretched to 150 long around 11am.

So many voters showed up on the final day of early voting in Clark County that the line snaked outside and down the sidewalk

I approached Joe Crowell, one of the few white men standing in line, and asked why he’d chosen today to cast his ballot. “I drive a truck and took the day off,” he said as he cradled his Big Gulp, “otherwise I could’ve been sent to Pennsylvania or Wisconsin or wherever tomorrow.” If he’d waited another day for Election Day, he would’ve lost $300 in pay.

His response was echoed by voter after voter throughout the day. Sarah, who works 11-hour days at the Elks Lodge, had Monday off but not Tuesday, as did Felicia, a phlebotomist at the nearby hospital in Springfield. Some, including Curtese Hunter, who works two jobs at Sinclair Community College, said they would’ve still done their best to show up on Tuesday had Monday voting not been an option, but were relieved not to have to choose between their paycheck and their civic duty.

The longest line of the day, unsurprisingly, was in Dayton, where 150 people stood in the parking garage alone, waiting to join the voting line inside.

The voting line in Montgomery County was so long that it snaked out through the parking garage

A young couple, Cynthia Develvis and Brian Latimer, arrived at 1:50pm with their seven-week-old baby girl in tow. “We both had work off today and hoped to avoid the long lines and as much noise for her sake,” Develvis explained, motioning to her daughter. They were understandably disappointed to be waiting in line 10 feet from where they’d parked their car.

Despite the long lines, poll workers did an exceptional job of keeping it moving and taking other steps to make the process as smooth as possible. As she passed out water bottles to voters in line, one worker in Dayton said that all employees had been instructed to move their cars out of the garage in order to open up more spaces, which were already scarce, for voters.

Because of the restricted early voting hours that Husted succeeded in implementing, more than 30 voters were turned away from the polls after arriving too late. One elderly African American couple who arrived a few minutes past 2pm were disheartened after being told they couldn’t vote today. “We couldn’t find a parking space!” the wife explained, to no avail.

The final voter in Montgomery County was Kysiah, a young African American woman who owned her own company and made it in line five seconds before the 2pm cutoff. Tomorrow is very busy, she explained, relieved to have made it in at the nick of time today. “This is my business day to handle all my business,” she said. One hour and approximately 250 voters later, Kysiah cast her ballot at 3:03pm.

Whether because of work constraints, school constraints, or other factors, voters across southwest Ohio were glad to have the opportunity to vote Monday. Even if it meant long lines, many reasoned that they would pale in comparison to what was to come on Tuesday. Few were aware of Husted’s push to roll back early voting, which would have prevented them from casting their ballot today; most, like Ellis, couldn’t believe that one of their elected officials would try to cut the number of voting days.

Still, despite being just hours out of the hospital, his was the face of determination. “As long as I’ve got an ounce of strength in me, I’m going to get out and vote.”