TOLEDO, Ohio — For weeks, voting rights activists in Ohio had been saying they didn’t want their state to be “another Florida,” defined by vote suppression and massive malpractice by election officials. But in the end, it was.

In just one tiny precinct here, 17C at Libbey High School, where 200 voters cast their ballots, volunteer poll monitors tallied close to 50 others who were turned away.

Alice Johnson lives just across the street from the school, and she’s been voting there for years. She had a cab lined up to take her to work for her afternoon shift at the post office. But election judges told Johnson that voters in her block were no longer assigned to this precinct.

A few minutes later, Michael Vasquez, a recent graduate of Libbey and hopeful new voter, showed up proudly displaying the card he had received from the Board of Elections with the school listed as his voting site. Despite the card, judges told Vasquez he was in the wrong place.

Johnson and Vasquez both had the “right” to cast provisional ballots, but due to a recent court ruling, such ballots cast in the “wrong” precinct would not end up being counted.

Around 11 a.m., Miguel Villareal, who did not want his real name used for this article, arrived at Libbey School.

Villareal had made careful preparations for Election Day: he applied for an absentee ballot weeks ago, knowing that he wouldn’t get off work in time to get to the polls. When the ballot hadn’t arrived by Monday, he asked his boss for Tuesday morning off to vote in person. That night he found the absentee ballot in his mailbox. But at the polls, judges barred Villareal from voting since he had been issued an absentee ballot. They also refused to accept the absentee ballot, stating it had to have been mailed in and they refused to issue a provisional ballot.

The judges were following a ruling of Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. Blackwell’s ruling was overturned by a federal judge about 4 p.m. Election Day, but Villareal, enraged and humiliated, was long gone.

Even the most massive army of “voter protection” activists in Ohio’s history — close to 1,000 in this city alone — wasn’t able to overcome the built-in disenfranchisement of voters in African American, Latino and other working-class neighborhoods like the one around Libbey School.

A steady stream of proud new voters made their way into the school throughout the day. A bit unsure about the voting process, many nevertheless showed they had done some deep thinking about the issues.

“The country can’t just focus on war all the time,” said Al Savage, 20. “We want jobs, we don’t want to be on the street.” He was accompanied by his brothers, A.J., 19, and Chris, 18. The newly registered voters, turned away at this poll, set out on foot in the steady rain to try to vote in another precinct.

The author can be reached at rwood@pww.org.

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