About 75 students from the University of Toledo College Democrats gathered on the pavement below the main steps of the Student Union Building on Tuesday, despite overcast skies and the threat of rain. They assembled for "The March for Change," a rally with a two-pronged strategy aimed both at stimulating political interest and moving students to the polls on the opening day of early voting.
At first, the mood seemed subdueda reflection of the botched expectation of as many as 500 students attending.
"We used all the social utilities possible," said Brad Davey, president of the College Democrats, prior to the Tuesday rally. "We do understand that a lot of people have class, but we've stressed the importance of the event."
David Young, the director of the Office of Excellence on campus, took the podium. He spoke of "Education and Political Action".
"It's high time that students take back their country," he said. "It's time that you stop letting people despise your youthtell you that you're too young, you're too inexperienced, you don't know enough. It's time that you stop letting people discount you. [Letting them] say, 'Those students are gonna talk a lot, but when it comes down to it they're not going to vote.'"
At approximately 12:45 p.m. the crowd marched east through Centennial Mall, then south across the river and up the hill past the Glass Bowl Stadium to the Student Recreation Center's parking lot.
On the way, the group vigorously shouted various slogans in support of Barack Obama. When they arrived in the parking lot, they were ushered into five or six full-sized cargo vans provided by Vote Today, a non-partisan organization concerned with the logistics of early voting for students.
The Vote Today shuttles take students, regardless of their political views, downtown to the designated site for early voting at the Emergency Management Response Training Center, located at 2127 Jefferson Ave.
Matt Rubin, chairman of the College Republicans and a sophomore majoring in political science and public administration, said he thinks there are more effective ways to rally voters than a march, adding that UT's College Republicans had 60 registered voters show up at its meeting this week.
"Marching downtown to vote might seem noble, but it's not a very effective way of doing things," he said. "We do things that work. It may not be as exciting, but it is something more conventional. The Republican Party, instead of doing things like this, we were doing phone calls."
The option to vote early will be available from Sept. 30 to Nov. 3., and the in-person absentee voting center will be open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
The on-campus shuttle will run until Friday of this week and again on Monday. The shuttles will depart every half-hour from the Rec Center parking lot while also stopping at the bus stop near the Student Classroom Annex, said Nery Rodriguez, a sophomore majoring in nursing and the campus coordinator for Vote Today.
"We want to make it as easy as possible for people to get out and vote early; that's our goal," said Nick Robinson, the regional director for Vote Today. "This week is what we like to call 'golden week,' in which you can both register and vote at the same time. Since so many students have not registered, or have not registered at their current address, we want to give them the opportunity to easily just make it down there, register at their current address and vote."
The ability to register at the early vote polls for absentee voting ends Oct. 6. The polls will stay open until 9 p.m. on this day. On Nov. 3, they will close early at 4:30 p.m.
After being dropped off by the shuttles at the Democratic Headquarters downtown, the group marched down Jefferson Avenue toward the early vote polls. They chanted "Obama" among other variations on the theme.
The group added at least one to their ranks along the way. Toledo native Joseph McGillen was walking down the opposite side of the street when the marchers passed.
"I saw them, and I wanted to vote, to get that man out and get my man in," he said.
The marchers crossed the street and turned into the polling station, which was previously nearly vacant except for several media crews and poll workers.
"It was awesome. They were yelling and screaming, and it was fun," said Sara Mills, a freshman majoring in marketing and international business and one of the marchers. "There were about fifty. I was in front holding the sign."
The marchers then regained composure as they went inside to vote.
"I am very excited. I just voted," said Jamalat Abuhajar, a freshman majoring in political science. "It was pretty easy I just walked in like, 'Hey I'm voting today' It's like if you went to McDonald's. [Whereas on] Nov. 4th, you're going to be like, 'Oh my God. I'm going to do a Chipotle run. I'll be back guys.'"
Jon Suster, the vice president of the College Democrats, said overall he was pleased with the turnout despite having anticipated a larger crowd. He noted that students are often unpredictable.
"The supporters who came out were really into it," he said.