This story was written by Tim Sampson, The BG News
It was a different kind of all-nighter on Monday for one group of politically engaged college students.
About 20 Bowling Green State University College Democrats pitched five tents on the lawn of the Wood County Courthouse, propped up a giant Obama-Biden sign and went around slapping campaign stickers all over campus. They did all this while waiting through the night for a chance to be the first citizens in Wood County - and perhaps even the state - to cast their ballots for Sen. Barack Obama.
Members of the College Democrats organized the sleep over with local Obama campaign volunteers in order to kick-off the start of early voting in Ohio. As of yesterday, Ohio voters are now allowed to cast their ballot for the general election anytime between now and Nov. 4.
This is the first time No-fault Absentee voting, or early voting, has been available in Ohio for a presidential election. Early voting has been available in the state since the 2006 midterms.
The additional option of early voting was introduced in order to make the processes more convenient and hopefully to get more people to cast their votes, said Terry Burton, director of the Wood County Board of Elections.
"It's a concept that was already in use for years in other states like Texas and Florida," Burton said. "And it's really been embraced in those states."
Burton said there are a number of advantages to voting early. It is more convenient for voters who cannot find time to physically go to the polls during the 13-hour window on Election Day. And the more people that vote early, he said, the shorter lines will be on Nov. 4, which should hopefully foster higher voter turnout overall.
Burton hopes the advent of early voting will double the total number of absentee ballots cast in Wood County from 2004, predicting about 8,000 Wood County residents will vote absentee this year.
In order to cast their ballot before Election Day, voters registered in Wood County can either go to the Board of Elections office located in the County Courthouse, or by requesting a ballot by mail. Details about proper identification and request procedures are available at the Board of Elections' Web site at www.co.wood.oh.us/BOE. But in order to vote at all, Ohio residents must be registered to vote by Oct. 6.
Last night's sleep over outside the courthouse may be an indication of how popular early voting will be. Holly Cipriani, a member of the College Democrats and organizer of the sleep over, said early voting will be crucial to her group's "Get Out the Vote" efforts in Bowling Green. In addition to voter registration drives and person-to-person campaigning, the College Democrats and Obama volunteers will be sponsoring a shuttle bus from campus to the Board of Elections' office for at least the first week of early voting.
Democratic volunteers say their efforts are motivated by a desire to help people perform their civic duty - and maybe a little bit by politics as well.
"My main concern is people voting," said Elyse Faulk, vice president of the College Democrats. "I don't even care who you vote for as long as you vote ... OK, maybe I care a little bit who you vote for."