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Early voting takes on a circus-like quality in Ohio

November 02, 2012|By Alana Semuels
  • Voters wait to cast early ballots at a polling place in Columbus, Ohio.
Voters wait to cast early ballots at a polling place in Columbus, Ohio. (Alana Semuels / Los Angeles…)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Voting may once have been serious, private and limited only to wealthy landowners, but, these days, it’s a multiday circus complete with food trucks, traffic jams and a parking lot where Abraham Lincoln is frenemies with an anti-abortion activist.

That, at least, is the scene in Columbus, where early voting has been open since Oct. 2, and the booths were so mobbed Friday that people had to park in the grocery store lot next door. Voters streamed in and out of the building, getting in their cars in the frigid October afternoon, then finding themselves unable to move because of the traffic. Few slowed their pace, though – they risked getting accosted by dozens of activists, wearing blue or red and handing out sample ballots for their parties.

Voter Jackie Davis, 65, said she wished she’d taken a Democratic sample ballot – so she would know which candidates to vote against. Davis voted straight Republican, and said she was nagged into voting early.

“My sister’s pretty bossy,” she said.

The parking lot was full of people such as Richard Justman, 59, a retired carpenter who parked three trucks in front of the polls to get his message across. One was draped with a banner that said, “Vote Godly Values,” another held a sign screaming, “Stop Voter Fraud,” another propped up a Romney sign.

He’s returned to the parking lot every day for 12 days to make people aware of his pet issue, stopping voter fraud, which he first learned about when he received an absentee ballot for his mother, who died six months ago.

“We want every day for them to take these people from the active status to the inactive status,” he said, waving a newspaper opened to the obituary page. He was sipping Senate Bean soup, one of the political-themed offerings from the two food trucks parked in front of the polls.

Nearby, Lynn Hardesty, 56, held a sign for Judge Kim Brown. She’d been standing in the parking lot for five hours, and has returned here in wind and rain many days since early voting began.

“I just really believe in my candidate,” said Hardesty, a paralegal.

So does Robert Brugler, an Abraham Lincoln impersonator who could be found Friday stumping for Sherrod Brown and President Obama in the parking lot, wearing a top hat and a Lincoln-style beard. He acknowledges that Lincoln was, actually, a Republican, but says the parties have changed since then.

“Republicans were Democrats, Democrats were Republicans. If you look down South, everyone votes Republican now,” he said.

Walking across the parking lot, he ran across Sarah Cleveland, standing near giant graphic posters of fetuses to protest abortion, and greeted her civilly. She returned his greeting.

“We’re kind of frenemies,” she said.

Early voting has been available most weekdays. Republicans had sued to stop early voting in the three days before the election, saying it would make counting ballots easier on local elections boards. But a court ruled last month that early voting could proceed up until the election. This is the first weekend the polls will be opened for early voting. Secretary of State John Husted said that as of Oct. 26, 1.2 million Ohioans had voted early. That’s nearly 100,000 more than did in 2008.

Ohio has been the site of protracted court battles over early voting and provisional ballots, though it appears that all court cases have been resolved before the election. Maybe Ohioans should take a page from the Abraham Lincolns of the world. The Assn. of Abe Lincoln Presenters consists of both Republicans and Democrats, Brugler said, but they all learn to get along.

“We do cooperate when it comes to Mr. Lincoln,” he said.

alana.semuels@latimes.com

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