Oberlin voters win Lorain County for Kerry
Junior Asha Willis said that “Bush’s presence” got her out to vote. Town resident Virginia Simons responded to “unprecedented” failures in foreign policy. For these reasons among many others, Lorain County saw a dramatic 70 percent voter turnout that mirrored shockingly high turnouts throughout the country.
Voter turnout across the nation reached an all time high since 1968 with upwards of 61 percent of Americans voting. Though exit polls revealed that new voters favored Senator John Kerry’s presidential bid, their import was not sufficient to unseat President George W. Bush, who won the race by 274 electoral votes to Kerry’s 252.
By early Wednesday morning, it became clear that Ohio would be this election’s kingmaker state, as both candidates required its 20 electoral votes to win. Though the Bush campaign eventually emerged victorious by a 136,483 vote margin, Oberlin residents helped to swing Lorain County for Kerry.
Oberlin students voted at two locations on Nov. 2; residents of north campus dorms voted in precinct 3A at the First Church in Oberlin while residents of south campus voted in precinct 3B at the Oberlin Public Library.
As of 11 a.m., the 3A line at First Church stretched around the building’s exterior. Students, as well as the professors and community members whose homes are located within the precinct’s borders, reported waits of well over three hours.
“People are getting impatient,” said sophomore Caitlin Reid. Acting with OhioPIRG, Reid was one of many volunteers who aided voters in finding correct precinct locations and distributed the “voter bill of rights.” Volunteers were on hand at both voting stations all day plying waiting voters with food and drink, entertaining the restless lines with music and facilitating the polling process.
Perhaps the most contentious issue of Lorain County voting was the apparent lack of planning devoted to preparing the polls for Oberlin student voting. Each polling location patronized by students featured two precincts. The non-student precincts (2A at the First Church and 5A at the library) featured consistently short lines of 30 minutes or less all day while afternoon and evening voters in the 3A and 3B precincts faced waits of up to five-and-a-half hours.
“The Board of Elections was not prepared for this outturning of voters,” commented sophomore James Putnam who, at 11:15 a.m., was nearing the polling machines at First Church.
“Whoever did the districts had some issues,” said sophomore Ellis Ballard, who noted that, while he had been standing in line in the First Church precinct 3A line for four hours as of 5 p.m., Oberlin residents in precinct 2A had voted and left in minutes.
Many Oberlin residents echoed this sentiment. Creative writing professor Martha Collins, a first-time Oberlin voter, discussed her 20-minute wait, noting that she had “never seen anything like this before.” Nearby, dance professor Carter McAdams added that the longest delay he had ever experienced voting in Oberlin was 30 minutes.
“I think it’s been a great bonding experience,” said first-year Anne Hoffman of her four-hour wait at First Church which, as of 5:15, was uncompleted. By the early evening, the line that earlier had snaked outside the building had been moved into the church’s sanctuary and hallways.
College President Nancy Dye echoed Hoffman’s optimism. Though a non-student, she voted in the library’s 3B precinct and reported a relatively short wait of three hours. Delighted at high voter turnout and student activism, Dye described herself as “overwhelmed at what Oberlin students have accomplished.”
She also noted the importance of voter treatment uncolored by age, saying that “if you’re going to ID students, you’ve got to ID me!”
The atmosphere inside the Oberlin Public Library was still generally optimistic at 5:30; the roomy building, though packed with voters, was organized into disciplined lines. Senior Derek James commented that waiting in line for voting (a three-and-a-half-hour wait that for him had not even ended) was a “rewarding time commitment.”
It’s undeniable that most Oberlin voters will be disappointed with the outcome of this week’s election. Kerry won over 55 percent of Lorain County’s presidential ballots; its 76,512 Democratic presidential votes were not enough to sway the state for the senator.
Notwithstanding Oberlin’s vibrant, activist LGBTQ community and general receptivity to gay and lesbian issues, Lorain County also passed the controversial “Issue 1” amendment banning same-sex marriages and civil unions 58 percent to 41 percent. One moderate victory for local progressives was the passage of “Issues 27-30,” a cocktail of Oberlin initiatives that promised to liberalize the town charter.
Another race that captured many an Oberlin heart was the competition between Republican incumbent George V. Voinovich and Democratic challenger Eric D. Fingerhut for U.S. Senate. Though Fingerhut lost by only 17 points in Lorain County, he was more thoroughly routed in other parts of the state.
With Oberlin residents waiting to vote long into the night, this most recent election is being interpreted by many as a type of victory for the town.
In an e-mail to the College community on Wednesday, Dye summed up the
day’s events, saying, “Any group of people who can accomplish what
you managed to bring off yesterday will certainly be able to make a real
difference in this nation.”