She waited nearly two hours in the cold to cast what was her very first vote.
But 22-year-old Brandy Hayes never had any doubt about why she was at the Lucas County Early Voting Center on Monday.
“It’s an important election and I wanted to exercise my right to vote,” Ms. Hayes said. “I want to see the President in office for four more years.”
That sentiment — that the stakes are high on Election Day today — was shared by many of the thousands of Toledo-area residents who waited up to three hours to vote on Monday. It was the final day to cast an early ballot after a contentious statewide debate over details for early voting.
It’s not just that the nation’s eyes are on Ohio, a state that very likely will determine the outcome of a close race between Democratic President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view images
RELATED CONTENT: Ballot, precinct and other voting information
Voters across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan also are electing federal, state, county, and township officials, as well as voting on two state constitutional amendments in Ohio and six ballot issues in Michigan.
Ohio also has been in the spotlight for a heated race between U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican, for the Senate seat. And in Lucas County, voters will decide on five countywide levies, plus two more for Toledo city residents.
Early voting this past weekend went smoothly, said Meghan Gallagher, director of the Lucas County Board of Elections. Even Republican and Democratic members of the board of elections found little to disagree about as they reviewed ballots late Monday afternoon.
Residents had until 2 p.m. Monday to vote early. All of those who arrived after 2 p.m., like Carol Bostic, were turned away and directed to vote Tuesday at their usual voting site.
Lucas County election officials and sheriff’s deputies stood in the crowd of waiting voters and set the boundary for those who were already in line and could vote and those who had just arrived and could not. Dozens of people tried to get into the North Toledo voting center even after the doors had closed.
Some were offering to park cars to help people get inside the center in the nick of time.
“I’m still going to vote tomorrow,” said Ms. Bostic, who unsuccessfully pleaded her case to election officials on Monday. “I’m going to get my voice heard.”
Voters this year had a 35-day window to cast early ballots.
Officials said they were pleased with early voter turnout, despite ongoing fights about early vote center locations and hours this year.
According to Lucas County voting records, 22,948 people voted early in person this year, Ms. Gallagher said. That number was less than four years ago when 24,669 residents voted early, she said.
Not everyone was satisfied, though. Democratic Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said although he is pleased that early voting went well, he is still unhappy that Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted decided to reduce the number of hours that people could vote early this year.
Government officials should try to increase opportunities to vote, not discourage voters, Mr. Gerken said Monday during a news conference at the Early Voting Center.
In mid-October, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block a lower federal court ruling requiring the state to keep its doors open during the last three days before today’s election for in-person early voting.
Ms. Husted issued a directive setting uniform hours for all 88 counties for those three days as he had for the rest of the early voting period.
Voters could cast ballots from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday. Voters had been casting ballots in mail or in person since Oct. 2, but this past Saturday and Sunday represented the only weekend in which ballots could be cast in person at county boards of elections or at designated early vote centers.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern had called on Mr. Husted to set other hours for the two other remaining weekends before the election.
“I call those the lost 30 hours,” Mr. Gerken said. “It still amounts to voter suppression.”
Despite long lines and cold weather, the atmosphere was mostly upbeat and festivelike over the weekend. Local restaurants and organizations passed out free food and warm beverages to people as they stood in line. Singer Dottie Peoples performed outside the center on Saturday, said Roshaana Torrez, a volunteer with the Lucas County Democratic Party.
Former Ohio First Lady Frances Strickland, a Democrat, stood near the line on Monday, shaking hands of those who were waiting.
Deacon Zettie Williams of Family Baptist Church said he was pleased to see so many young people voting on Monday.
“Just seeing all of them line up to vote — they know that there’s a lot of stuff going on in the community, and they want to make it better,” Mr. Williams said.
Diane Jackson, the last person to cast a vote at the center on Monday, wasn’t deterred by being last in line. Ms. Jackson, who had to make a last-second, mad-dash to get in line in time, said she can’t vote today because she has to work.
“I knew what I was getting into,” said Ms. Jackson, gesturing at the hundreds of people in line ahead of her. “But I’m going to wait in line as long as it takes.”
Contact Federico Martinez at: email@example.com or 419-724-6154.