Lines As Long As Ohio Is Close

A voter leaves a polling place late in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2004.
Hundreds of people waited in lines more than three hours after polls closed Tuesday night in hotly contested Ohio, where elections officials took extra voting machines to some precincts to try to speed things up and volunteers passed out hot chocolate to warm voters waiting in cold rain.

Many elections officials said people still in line at the poll closing time of 7:30 p.m. would be allowed to vote.

The Lorain County Board of Elections took extra voting equipment to two precincts near Oberlin College, where the wait was up to five hours at one point.

Though outside groups and the political parties had worried that chaos would be created by a high number of new voters and the potential for registration challenges, and a host of legal moves against Repbulican vote challengers at polilng places, most problems were minor in one of the most anticipated elections in the nation's history.

Jonathan Mead was the last person allowed through the door at First Church in Oberlin. The 18-year-old freshman from Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., had come and gone twice before deciding to stick it out so he could vote for Sen. John Kerry.

When the polls closed, there were about 400 people ahead of him.

"I'm very glad that so many people came and that I had to wait," said Mead, who brought his developmental psychology homework to pass the time until he finally cast his ballot at 10 p.m.

Since it was a punch-card, he took extra care to make sure there wasn't a repeat of Florida 2000.

"I certainly pressed down hard with the little awl type thing and I certainly checked it quite thoroughly after I pulled it out," he said with a chuckle. "There wasn't anything hanging on there."

Volunteers handed out hot chocolate, and voters were festive.

"If you wanted to see a good example of democracy in action, the way it should be, you should have been here today," said Pastor David Hill. "It was phenomenal."

At Kenyon College about 55 miles northeast of Columbus, voting was predicted to continue until at least 11 p.m. because of high turnout in a precinct with just two electronic voting machines, said Bill Moody, a member of the Knox County elections board.

Paper ballots were delivered to speed things up.

Mara Alperin, a 19-year-old sophomore at the college, said she missed two classes and napped while waiting seven hours to vote. Fellow waiters watched movies on laptop computers, read books and played games.

"I was assuming it would take 15 minutes, and I got there and the line was so long it was already snaking around the building," Alperin said. "It was a little bit discouraging but I knew I had to go through it."

The Medina County elections board took absentee ballot supplies to move things along in Montville for about 100 people still waiting 90 minutes after the polls closed, said board director Susan Strasser.

The lines began in some areas at dawn, hours before polls opened at 6:30 a.m.

In Cuyahoga County, Ohio's most populous, the western Cleveland suburbs of Westlake, Lakewood and Rocky River all asked for and got extra voting machines to ease earlier hours' long waits.

Jocelyn Travis, coordinator for the nonpartisan Voter Protection Program in Ohio, said the group was worried some minority voters were unfairly forced to cast provisional ballots in Cleveland. Those are counted later if officials verify that the voter was legally registered and in the correct precinct.

Elections board spokeswoman Jane Platten said the board was looking into the concerns.

In rural Holmes County, a woman trying to vote at a township hall became upset by bees buzzing around. The insects were exterminated.

Power went out for 30 minutes in the late afternoon at the polling place at a Cleveland church. Presiding Judge Jacqueline Atkinson said she used her cell phone and about four others that were rounded up from workers to provide some light for people who continued to cast punch-card ballots.

Filmmaker Michael Moore arrived with a crew to film while ballots were processed at the Cuyahoga board.

"We're here to make sure there's no funny business, no shenanigans," said Moore, director of the anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

Meanwhile, a late Tuesday court ruling in Toledo allowed Ohioans to cast a provisional ballot at the polls if they didn't receive absentee ballots on time.