CLEVELAND — Before sunrise at the Aurora School in Bedford City east of Cleveland, nearly 100 voters lined up in the rain.

“It’s never been this crowded this early. I’m impressed,” said Camille Huffman, 38, a bank worker who has been voting in the area since she was 18.

“This district used to be mixed … now there’s more minorities here and about a third qualify for free lunches,” one teacher said. “That’s who I see coming out today, minorities, lower income, single mothers, people who need to be heard who Bush isn’t helping.”

At hundreds of polling places in Cuyahoga County, the Democratic Voter Protection Program had over 600 volunteers and Election Protection had over 1,500 to assist voters and guard against voter intimidation.

Democratic challenger Hope Evans, 35, whose husband was among 600 Cleveland teachers laid off in last May’s round of cuts, said, “I’ve never seen the electorate more polarized than by Bush with fear and wedge issues. People have been brainwashed by the deregulated media. They’re trapped and they don’t even know it.”

A 72-year-old woman emerged from the polling place crying, her daughter unable to console her. “I’ve been voting here as long as I can remember and my name isn’t on the list,” the woman said. Volunteers couldn’t convince her to vote by provisional ballot. “That vote won’t count,” she said, wiping her eyes.

Later, two astute young voters uncovered a dirty trick. A campaign poster urging a “Yes” vote on a gay marriage ban was disguised as an official document and illegally posted on the wall next to the voting line.

Kelly Constant, 22, a graduate student at Case Western, was not just outraged by the trick poster. “When I was voting, I asked for a replacement ballot and the poll workers couldn’t be bothered to stop their personal conversation. It was just so disorganized in there.”

At the Emile B. De Souza School on the east side of Cleveland, Yasha Wingo, 22, a student at Inner State Beauty School, braved a two-and-a-half-hour wait to vote for Kerry. “More young people are voting who are displeased with how the country is being run,” Wingo said. “They don’t want to be sent to an unnecessary war.”

One of the last voters of the day was a tired but upbeat mother of five, Jackie, an occupational therapist. “The lines should have much better organization,” she said. “My Section F had so many, we needed more booths.”

An Election Protection attorney at the De Souza school, Ilana Kohn, 37, helped tackle the severe problems with long lines. “There were only five open machines for a line of 100-plus voters,” she said. “The presiding judge called the county board many times but they were no help. The election workers didn’t know how to tell people about provisional ballots. I helped several people who [had been given] the wrong information.”

Ohio State Sen. C.J. Prentice gave the Board of Elections a failing grade. “We’ve been predicting a surge of new voters and they were not prepared,” he said. “But the people were stalwart even if they’re vote was discouraged.”

John Ryan, Cleveland AFL-CIO executive secretary, analyzed the situation this way: “Even if we wake up and find we have a terrible close call,” he said, “we will have all these new people involved and we will build.”

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