DAYTON, Ohio — Voters arrived before the sun rose here for a chance to cast the first ballots of the 2020 presidential election. Early voting began Tuesday morning in a state that went for Trump in 2016 but that many view as competitive this time.
Montgomery County is a toss-up county in a toss-up state. The county in southwest Ohio voted twice for Barack Obama and then broke narrowly for Trump in 2016.
For Trump to win Ohio again, he has to rack up large margins in rural areas and keep it close in urban centers such as Dayton.
Voters, many of them Black, voiced their intention to vote for Biden. But not all of them.
Doug Foble, 72, of Centerville, was planning to cast his vote for Trump.
“He is one of the only presidents who has done what he said he would do,” Foble said. “He has taken control of foreign affairs, and I like the fact that he works hard.” Foble added that he isn’t a huge of fan of Trump’s style, but that the results are worth it.
“And I ignore the tweets,” Foble said of Trump’s prolific use of social media. “I don’t pay attention to them at all.”
Almost everyone in line was wearing a mask, and the coronavirus pandemic loomed large as a concern.
“I am angry,” said Cynthia Henley, 72, a Black resident of the Dayton suburb of Huber Heights. “The president is trying to deny covid, trying to play it down like it’s nothing.”
She stood in line with her husband, James Henley, 72, who expressed disdain for the president’s policies. “I am angry about everything and about how he has tried to divide us racially,” James Henley said.
The Henleys woke up at 6 a.m. and stood for almost 45 minutes in a line that snaked through a parking garage in downtown Dayton near the Board of Elections office. Candidates handed out leaflets, and observers urged voters to report any suspicious or intimidating activity.
Arthur Baker, 68, a White resident of Union wearing an “I Love the USA” mask, voted for Trump in 2016 but has decided to back Biden this time. His wife is disabled and will vote absentee, but Baker wanted to cast his vote in person.
“I voted for Trump, but he has failed,” Baker said. “I think he is crazy.” He described Trump’s message of accountability in government and cleaning up the influence of money as appealing, but said the president ultimately has fallen short.
“He is like a petulant child,” Baker said of Trump.
Elections officials reported a smooth opening to early voting, but volume was heavy. Jan Kelly, director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said that as of 9:30 a.m., 400 voters had been processed. Coronavirus concerns dictated that the office reduce voting machines by 60 percent.
“I think they had a good experience,” Kelly said. “We are all a little exhausted after two hours of nonstop [work].”
Also noteworthy is the explosion of absentee ballots. The board has received 98,024 absentee ballot applications, almost a quarter of the registered voters in the county. It is double the amount of absentee ballots requested in 2016. Tuesday is the first day ballots will be mailed, and Kelly said she expects about 95,000 to be mailed by the day’s end.
Williams is a freelance journalist.