Shelia Stewart thought the buses parked outside the Lucas County Board of Elections Early Vote Center meant there was a crowd ahead of her in line to vote.
The buses, however, had brought protesters who were there to register opposition to a newly passed state law that shut down the early voting office at 13th and Washington Streets as of 6 p.m. Friday.
“I’m surprised,” said Ms. Stewart, 55, of Toledo’s Old West End after she tugged on the locked door. “My husband said I would not be able to vote, but I did not believe him.”
The confusion over the canceled voting exemplified the complaints of the group of black clergy and union leaders about the shutdown of early voting.
Several said early voting would have peaked this weekend as voters, having absorbed just about all the information there was to get about the many candidates and issues in the election, were ready to cast their ballots.
“It’s un-American and undemocratic to close the polls the weekend before the vote,” said the Rev. Willie Perryman, pastor of Jerusalem Baptist Church on Dorr Street. “The real reason is they want to suppress the vote.”
The protest is a response to directions from Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to shut down early voting after 6 p.m. Friday before the election, which is Tuesday. Mr. Husted said he was implementing recent changes in state law known as amended substitute to House Bill 224.
Republican lawmakers said the early voting issue was created after a referendum effort caused the holdup of a similar bill, House Bill 194. House Bill 224, which dealt mainly with voting by military personnel, was amended and took effect last week.
The Lucas County Board of Elections had scheduled business hours for Saturday and Sunday but canceled them to comply with last month’s advisory.
Democrats said the clear intent was to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning groups.
A group of about 25 protesters on Saturday included some Democratic and union activists. They displayed signs with messages such as “Let Us Vote.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson used a rally Wednesday at the University of Toledo to urge students and others to “occupy” the downtown voter-registration center “all day and night” this weekend.
The Rev. Cedric Brock, pastor of Mount Nebo Baptist Church and head of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, said that Mr. Jackson’s suggestion was “a little bit much” but that the group responded with Saturday’s two-hour rally, and it plans to resume its positions from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday.
“This stops the motivation, the energy,” Mr. Brock said. “Last year we came out in record numbers on the Sunday and Monday before the election.”
The Rev. James Willis, pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church on North Detroit Avenue, said he would have used church vans to bring voters to the center on Saturday and Sunday.
“We’ve been bringing members for the last week from the church, and today would have been a perfect time,” said Mr. Willis, who wore a button urging a “no” vote on Issue 2, the measure to restrict public sector union rights.
Mr. Willis said that he doesn’t wear the button when he preaches and doesn’t tell his flock how to vote. The church vans, he said, are helpful for people who don’t have transportation or whose work schedules would make voting difficult on Tuesday.
Ms. Stewart,bursar at Wayne State University in Detroit, said she has made a practice the last two elections of voting on the weekend before the election.
“It’s very convenient for me to vote on the weekend since I work out of town during the week,” Ms. Stewart said. She said she will return on Tuesday to cast her vote.
One of those joining the protest was Larry Friedman of Sylvania, president of Toledo Building Services cleaning company. He said many of his employees hold two jobs to make ends meet, “and access to the polls is sometimes difficult for them.”
“For me, the voting booth is the one place where the rich man and the poor man stand as equals,” Mr. Friedman said. He said if the government would make voting easier, more people would vote.
According to Ben Roberts, executive director of the elections board, 5,602 people had voted at the early vote center as of Friday afternoon, compared with 5,551 who voted early in 2010. In 2009, there were 1,814 early voters.
Elections in odd-numbered years typically have lower turnouts than elections in even-numbered years, when presidential and gubernatorial elections are held. But a number of counties are reporting higher than usual absentee mail-in and early in-person voting, likely driven by high-profile efforts by Democrats and union groups to turn out voters to defeat Issue 2.
Contact Tom Troy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.