CINCINNATI (CN) — If highway billboards and rows of campaign signs along city streets weren’t enough, a temperature dip into the mid-30s Tuesday served as a chilling reminder to residents of southwest Ohio that November – and Election Day 2020 – have arrived.
Donald Trump cruised to victory in the Buckeye State in 2016, beating Hillary Clinton by more than 8 percentage points, but recent polling shows the state as a crucial tossup that could turn the tide of the election in Joe Biden’s favor.
A poll of 450 likely voters conducted by Research Co. on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 showed Trump and Biden in a dead heat, with each getting 47% of the respondents’ support.
Ohio has been a bellwether state in nearly every presidential election since the turn of the 20th century, and its continued importance was made clear by Biden’s visit to Cleveland on Monday.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic drastically altered the state’s primary elections in April and case numbers have steadily risen in the past few weeks, Ohio chose to keep polling locations from previous elections operational.
According to the website of Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, masks are required to vote in person, and each county is following a 61-point plan to keep voting machines clean throughout Election Day.
Courthouse News traveled to the New Life Temple Church in Madisonville, a neighborhood on the east side of Cincinnati, where cold temperatures did little to dissuade a steady stream of voters from turning out to cast their ballots.
Voters – all of whom were masked – filed in and out of the polling place without any delays, and concerns about long lines and wait times seemed misplaced, at least in the first few hours after polls opened at 6:30 a.m.
Jaime Struve spoke with Courthouse News shortly after she cast her vote for Biden, and said that while she votes in every election, this year’s race has taken on more significance.
“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity,” Struve said. “Today is my birthday, and the only present I want is a new president. The divisiveness, and the rhetoric, and the lies, I’m fed up … it just feels like a dystopic reality. I’m so over it.”
Struve, 44, is a scientist and said Biden’s willingness to trust scientists and other experts will allow him to succeed where Trump has failed.
“I want someone who knows how to gather the right people to answer the right questions around him,” Struve said, “and then actually listen to them.”
Struve went on to say that the president’s inflammatory rhetoric is “intolerable” to her and the values held by her family and must be stopped.
“There’s so much riding on this,” she said. “I feel like this is probably the most important election of my lifetime.”
Courthouse News also spoke with several Ohioans who voted to reelect Trump, and their decision seemingly hinged on economic performance and the potential for greater growth in a second term.
Yonnia McKinley, 57, voted for Clinton in 2016 but switched her vote to Trump this time around.
“I’ve done well under Donald Trump,” McKinley said. “I didn’t think I would … [but] he cut my taxes and I’ve got more money in my paycheck.”
As for Biden, McKinley called him a “figurehead” and said her decision to vote for Trump was based, in part, on her belief that the Democratic candidate will not last four years if he is elected president.
Dave Beckman, 52, said he voted for Trump in 2016 and is “all in for Donald Trump” in 2020 because of his economic policies.
“He is a businessman and not a politician,” Beckman said.
When asked about the president’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, Beckman called it “so-so,” but argued that better results were not possible regardless of who occupied the oval office.
Beckman said it is important to have a balance of input from both scientists and economic advisors to navigate the pandemic.
“Scientists can’t run the country,” he said.
Ohio is used to seeing large numbers of absentee ballots and early voters, but predictably, numbers are up this year because of concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic and possible Election Day delays at the polls.
According to the secretary of state, more than 3.4 million Ohioans had voted early by the eve of the election, a number that “shattered all previous records.”
“Ohioans have refused to listen to the fear mongers who have spent months trying to convince them that it’s hard to vote – they’re proving it’s easy with every record broken,” LaRose, a Republican, said in a statement. “As ballots mailed on time continue to come in over the next 10 days, Ohioans should rest assured that each legally cast ballot will be counted and their voice will be heard.”
The Buckeye State allows for no-excuse absentee voting and provides nearly a month of early, in-person voting, which began this year on Oct. 6 and ran through Monday.
According to the Hamilton County Board of Elections, 2020 has seen a record number of in-person early votes cast, with totals exceeding 50,000.
“We are energized,” Deputy Director Sally Krisel said in a statement, “even after working 12-hour days, by the outpouring of positivity from voters and encourage everyone to make a plan on how they will vote this year.”
An absentee ballot deadline of Nov. 2, however, means that results across the state may not be available on election night.
Polls are open in Ohio from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and although county boards of elections must post the results of early and absentee ballots at 8 p.m., that count will include only those that have already been returned and counted.
Meanwhile, fears of violent reactions to election results prompted city leaders and local businesses in the Cincinnati area to board up buildings and erect barriers around several downtown buildings – most notably, the Hamilton County Courthouse.