The Ohio Democratic Party asked a federal judge on Tuesday night to provide polling stations with punch card ballots in addition to existing electronic voting machines just hours before polls closed in order to reduce the long lines that greeted voters all day.
Citing lines as long as five hours long in some cases, the state’s Democrats informed the US District Court in Columbus that Franklin and Knox counties did not have a sufficient number of machines. “We simply want to reduce the wait and move the line along,” said David Sullivan of the Democratic Party. “We have no plans to ask a court to extend the hours of voting.”
Under Ohio state law, all voters who are in line when the polls close at 7:30pm are allowed to vote. But the last-minute request underscored widespread reports of extremely long lines that met voters at polling stations across the state throughout the day.
Hundreds of voters were found waiting in line even before the sites opened at 6:30 am. Despite steady raining for most of the day, hundreds were still found standing at many polling stations into the night.
Both Democrats and Republicans had engaged in a massive get-out-the-vote operations in Ohio throughout the past months and into Tuesday evening. No Republican has won the presidency without carrying Ohio, and its 20 electoral votes has been a prime focus of both President George W. Bush and John Kerry, the Democratic candidate.
But the incredible turnout in Ohio, perhaps the largest in more than a decade, was overwhelming the system. A spokesman for the Ohio Voter Protection Coalition, a non-partisan group, who had been in touch with election boards throughout the day, said: “Things are going well except that the voting system is just overwhelmed with the number of people. Some people are starting to leave. We have to make sure that everyone who wants to vote can vote.”
Earlier concerns over legal wrangles that had continued into the early hours of the morning had largely faded into the background for most of the day. The Republican Party had posted thousands of people inside the state’s polling places to challenge the eligibility of voters after winning a legal dispute that reached the US Supreme Court just hours before the polls opened.
Republicans had fought for the right to have their own poll watchers on the site over concerns of possible voter fraud, with what is thought to be 1m newly registered voters in the state and thousands of undeliverable mail to registered voters.
Democrats, who have accused them of voter intimidation and suppression, also placed their own monitors in the polls. Though the impact of their presence was not immediately clear, there were only a few reported instance of challengers disputing registrations of voters.
Myron Marlin of the Democratic Party in Ohio, who was keeping tabs on developments on the ground, said: “Things seem to be going quite smoothly. Challengers by Republicans are sporadic at best. A lot of Republicans didn’t even show up, according to early reports. The majority of complaints are about long lines.”
But despite the long wait and the incessant rain, Ohioans were passionate about making their vote count on Tuesday.
Sam Pegg, an architect, returned to his polling site in northwest Columbus three times to vote after facing long lines during the afternoon. The third time he brought along a large folding chair, reading material and an umbrella.
“I was prepared to hang out for a while,” he said. “I’ll do whatever it takes. People around the world don’t get a chance let along get beat up or shot trying to vote. Here it is just a matter of standing in the rain.”
Mark Weaver, a lawyer for the Ohio Republican Party, also said that only a handful of problems were reported, adding that the poll challengers were acting as observers and “taking notes” rather than actively challenging voters.
Earlier in the day, Bob Taft, the governor of Ohio, in a CNN interview, said: “My understanding is that the challengers, at least Republican challengers, will only be witnessing.”
Many voters interviewed at various polling places around the state’s capital city said their experiences had been relatively problem-free.
David Castlin, a security guard, who cast his ballot at the Mt Vernon AME Outreach Center in the northeast of the city and his friend Lamont Walker, an auto technician – who had voted at another site nearby – only complained that there were two few voting machines.
“The number of machines here is appalling. People see that we have lines right around the building and they turn around,” said Mr Castlin. “That is people’s voices lost.”