Voters move through the line at the Early Vote Center at Summit Plaza last week. Early voting ends today.
The long lines outside Lucas County's early vote center in North Toledo Sunday, while inconvenient to those voting, yet brought a sigh of relief to Democratic officials, some of whom worried that the in-person early voting this year would fall short of 2008.
"I think they were all waiting for today, to be honest with you," said Lucas County Democratic Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler. "They were lined up to Summit Street."
In-person early voting has been heavily Democratic, while Republicans tend to dominate the mail-in absentee voting, so which party benefits from the mix of in-person and mail voting has yet to become clear.
Early voting concludes today with in-person voting allowed from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Early Vote Center in the former Riverside Hospital, 1500 N. Superior St.
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Voters in Ohio are electing federal, state, and county officials, as well as voting on levies and two state constitutional amendments.
The election dominating the vote in Ohio is for president, between incumbent Democrat Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
But there is also a hard-fought U.S. Senate race on the ballot, between incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Republican Josh Mandel, the Ohio state treasurer.
Issues on the ballot include a new $13.3 million operating levy for Toledo Public Schools; a new recreation levy for the City of Toledo, and an additional levy for the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.
Two constitutional questions are on the Ohio ballot - to change the way statehouse and Congressional districts are drawn and to hold a constitutional convention.
As in Ohio, Michigan voters are selecting state and federal legislators through a new set of district maps. And Michigan has a U.S. Senate race, between Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow and GOP challenger Pete Hoekstra.
This was the first weekend for early voting in person this election, unlike in 2008 when Lucas County had four weekends of early voting.
Democrats say that's due to Republican attempts to suppress the Democratic vote.
Lucas County Republican Chairman Jon Stainbrook insisted there was no less opportunity to vote.
"This year everybody who's a registered voter can vote by mail out of the privacy and convenience of their own homes," Mr. Stainbrook said.
Some churches load up their vans on Sunday after services and send people to the early voting center. Mr. Rothenbuhler said that practice is known as "souls to the polls."
As of Saturday, the total early vote in Ohio was 1.6 million, compared with about 1.7 million who voted early in 2008. The early vote includes people who voted in person.
"Everything is on pace to exceed the highest early voting we ever had, and a lot of that was due to the special efforts I made to make sure we provided every single registered voter with an absentee voter application," Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said.
Democrats give Mr. Husted no such credit and contend that Sunday's outpouring of early voting was pent-up demand that was denied when voting on previous weekends was prohibited this year. In 2008, counties could offer weekend voting within the 35-day early vote window but this year Mr. Husted imposed consistent early voting hours and days.
"There's only one opportunity for Ohioans to vote early on the weekends and this was it," State Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said. "Jon Husted, a Republican, rolled back the early vote, and limited opportunity."
However, Mr. Redfern said the numbers he has seen convinced him that the early voting - by mail and in-person - exceeded the 2008 early voting.
"We're quite confident that the levels we've seen through the course of the early voting period are more than enough to give us the margin of victory on Election Day," Mr. Redfern asserted.
Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett could not be reached for comment. Mr. Stainbrook said Democrats weren't voting early in the same numbers as four years ago.
"I attribute it to the lack of enthusiasm for Barack Obama," Mr. Stainbrook said.
In Ohio until 2006, a voter had to claim a reason that they would not be able to vote on Election Day. Since then, Ohio has had one of the more liberal early voting laws in the country, despite efforts by the Ohio General Assembly and Mr. Husted this year to limit weekend voting.
Twenty-seven states allow no-excuse early voting, some for as little as a week before Nov. 6, others as much as 40 days.
The Lucas County Early Vote Center has consistently seen long lines of voters, often stretching into the waiting room.
University of Toledo student Alexander Jenkins, 19, who went to vote last Wednesday, said he waited about 10 minutes.
"It was fine. I know on Election Day the lines are going to be wrapped around the building," Mr. Jenkins said. He said he supported President Obama because of his support for helping college students pay for college.
Greg Lozier, 48, of Oregon, also voted early last Wednesday. He said it worked better with his work schedule as a human resources manager. The line was just outside the interior door when he arrived.
"It was a little longer than I wanted," Mr. Lozier said of the wait. He said multiple locations covering the city and the county would have been a good idea.
"I wasn't sure I was going to be available on Tuesday and I wanted to make sure my vote counted," he said. "I did vote for Mitt Romney. I just felt he reflects more my political beliefs, of a conservative nature."
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