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Election Protection is WKSU’s community information initiative focused on access, policy and community resources around voting this November.

Huge Crowds Line Up to Early Vote in Stark, Cuyahoga, Summit Counties

Otrrix Smith.JPG
Kabir Bhatia
Community organizers Cynthia Ottrix (right) and Ricky Smith helped bring Vote to Live to Cleveland on Saturday, one of several cities where the Collective Education Fund provided music and food for people waiting in line to vote.

The first weekend of early voting in Ohio began with big crowds — who were in good spirits — in Cleveland.

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

Robert Terry is a lifelong Clevelander who 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; 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.

Souls to the Polls in Canton
In Stark County, the first Sunday of early, in-person voting drew a crowd that stretched around the Board of Elections, through a back parking lot and onto an access road.

Souls to the Polls in Stark County
Souls to the Polls in Stark County

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.

But Bishop G.L. Evans II of Canton acknowledges COVID-19 has cut out 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."

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

Electioneering in Akron
In Akron at the Summit County Board of Elections, a similar scene unfolded with music and long lines. Renee Clanagan was there with a group from New Millennium Baptist in Akron.

“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.”

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. 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. 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.”

Weekend early voting continues next Saturday (October 31) from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Sunday (November 1) from 1-5 p.m.
On weekdays (October 26-30), the hours are 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
And next Monday (November 2) the hours are 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

M.L. Schultze came to WKSU as news director in July 2007 after 25 years at The Repository in Canton, where she was managing editor for nearly a decade. She’s now the digital editor and an award-winning reporter and analyst who has appeared on NPR, Here and Now and the TakeAway, as well as being a regular panelist on Ideas, the WVIZ public television's reporter roundtable.
Kabir Bhatia joined WKSU as a Reporter/Producer and weekend host in 2010. While a Kent State student, Bhatia served as a WKSU student assistant, working in the newsroom and for production.