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Huge Crowds Line Up Around Ohio For First Sunday Of Early Voting

First Sunday early in-person voters lined up around the Stark Board of Elections, through the back lot to the street.
M.L. Schultze
First Sunday early in-person voters lined up around the Stark Board of Elections, through the back lot to the street.

Lines snaked outside the Franklin County Board of Elections during the first weekend of early voting. More than 1 million Ohioans have already cast early ballots, including about 440,000 who voted in-person at the election board.

That's more than double the number of Ohioans who voted early in-person at this point in 2016.

For nearly two decades, turnout for the two early-voting Sundays in Ohio has been energized by Black churches, often leading mass marches and caravans of voters under the banner of Souls to the Polls.

The first Sunday of early voting drew a crowd that stretched around the Stark County Board of Elections, through a back parking lot and onto an access road. But Bishop G.L. Evans II of Canton acknowledges COVID-19 has cut out some of their efforts, like the caravans.

Instead, he says, the effort is to energize long lines of waiting voters.

“Because of COVID we have to be a little more creative, so now we’re just being more visible, more Facebook, more (social) media, and using pastors to let them know the polls are open on Sundays,” Evans said.

Voters began lining up outside the board of elections in Canton about an hour before the polls opened at 1 p.m.

A similar scene unfolded with music and long lines in Akron at the Summit County Board of Elections.

“We had to space out more [for] safety precautions, but we still wanted to get our vote in so that we have the right people in office – because our voice matters," said Renee Clanagan, who was there with a group from New Millennium Baptist.

Victoria Oliver from Akron was handing out Republican campaign literature, and says some voters still seem to be undecided.

"I don't understand it, unless they're listening to different news reports and don't what to believe," Oliver says. "It is confusing."

Joe Nanashee was there handing out campaign literature for Democrats – something the 87-year-old has done on every day of early voting this year because he wants everyone to vote.

"I fought for it. I have to do this," Nanashee says. "It's necessary. I do it every election. The America that I knew when I was a kid is not here anymore, and I'd like to see it come back.”

In Cleveland, the group Vote to Live provided food and music for who waited in a line that stretched at times for a quarter-mile.

Robert Terry, a lifelong Clevelander, even brought chairs for his wife and sister while they waited in line for over an hour. He’s 58 and says he often casts his ballot during early voting, but this year is unlike any before.

“People want change and based on what’s happening now with this virus and this pandemic and these hostile elections – people are just coming out," Terry says. "They’re tired.”

During her Cleveland campaign stop Saturday, Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris made a brief stop across the street from the line – and outside the 100 foot neutral zone – to thank people for voting.

Kabir Bhatia joined WKSU as a Reporter/Producer and weekend host in 2010. A graduate of Hudson High School, he received his Bachelor's from Kent State University. While a Kent student, Bhatia served as a WKSU student assistant, working in the newsroom and for production.