Erie Island Elementary School, just off Interstate 71 in Akron, is in gridlocked, and I haven't even gotten into the gym, where voters in four predominantly African-American precincts are casting their ballots.
The tiny four-way intersection, just east of the school, has five-to-six vehicles stopped in each direction in front of the bungalow-type homes. The parking lot is overflowing with more than forty cars.
And on the sidewalk in front of the one-level brick school are at least a dozen election observers, Kerry supporters, and long-time neighbors milling about in a drizzle. Robert Lowrey, an Akron attorney and volunteer with the Ohio Voter Protection Coalition, a non-partisan citizens group monitoring for polling place irregularities, is talking with John Paxton. Paxton has lived in a home, adjacent to the school, for twenty years. Also in the group are long-time residents Eula Roberts, an Akron firefights, and his wife, Vanessa, a local school teacher.
"There's confusion inside," grumbles Paxton. The Roberts agree.
The problem? "Every election in the past, there've been lists posted to the big iron door near the entrance of the school," Paxton says. "Each voter's name is listed according to home address, alphabetized according to street name and the precinct in which they should cast their vote. It's in big letters. It's not there today."
No one seems to know why. "It's a mess in there," complains Eula Roberts, agreeing with Paxton. "Totally unnecessary."
Adding to the confusion is a mimeographed sheet taped to the gym door, which admonishes voters, "Notice -- your vote, including your vote cast by provisional ballot, will count only if you're voting in the precinct in which you reside."
A few problems have been reported by the poll monitors, Lowrey says. Most of them stem from confusion over where people should vote. In some cases, people in these situations receive provisional ballots. Lowrey's not sure what he's going to do with the complaints. "We don't have a focus on that at this conjuncture," he admits.
Lowrey, who's white and wears a suit and tie, isn't the only monitor. He's joined by four middle-aged African-American women wearing white windbreakers emblazoned with Ohio Voter Project in black letters on the back. They mill around the sidewalk with clipboards and leaflets instructing voters on what to do if there's a problem inside.
A few steps away, a dozen kindergarteners, waiting for their rides, are lined up double, silent, standing behind their two teachers. They're the best best-behaved, by far.
Tom Shelly, a Kerry volunteer, stands just behind the kindergartners with a white clipboard in his hands and a dejected look on his face. He's been canvassing the precincts. At 10 and 1, he's supposed to ask the election judges for a tally of how many voters have cast ballots.
There were no problems at three precincts, but he was met at the Erie Island door by four suited men, who shooed him away. "I don't understand," complains Shelly, who's supposed to phone the results into Kerry's Columbus headquarters along with the others he's gotten.
Inside, voting booths line the gym walls. Twenty-four people are waiting in one line, some as long as 45 minutes.
Today's the first time Darrell Brown, 26, an African-American Akron machinist, has voted. He was incarcerated for drug manufacturing during the 2000 presidential election. It took him about a year to find a job, after release from prison in 2002. He's been working for six months. He voted for Kerry. "I'm afraid to vote for Bush," he says. "I'm afraid that we'll go into a state of depression in the next two years. There are a lot of people who don't have jobs who are dependent on the county. Bush wants to cut all of that. Kerry is worried about the little guys and the middle class."
Jamie Bendo, 40, accompanied by her husband, Kerry Holmes, a school psychologist, 33, voted for Bush. "I align more with his values," particularly when it comes to gay rights and abortion restrictions,
says Bendo, a white stay-at-home mom with a toddler.