US presidential election 2016

US elects a president - Homeless' votes may tip balance in Ohio

Voters queue in Cleveland, Ohio
Voters queue in Cleveland, Ohio Jan van der Made/RFI

As voting began in the most controversial US presidential election in decades, hundreds of people queued at the Cuyahoga Board of Elections in Cleveland, Ohio, to cast their ballots. One organisation helped hundreds of unregistered homeless people to go and vote.


“It’s become a big thing for people to come down, cast their ballot early,” says Mike West, outreach director with the Board.

“Then it is out of the way and they are free to as they please on election day.”

Traffic police are regulating the many cars that try to park behind the Cuyahoga County Board of Election’s building and, after a few hours, the line is snaking around the corner.

The Board of Elections building in Cuyahoga county
The Board of Elections building in Cuyahoga county Jan van der Made/RFI

“In 2008 we kind of got surprised by 54,000 early in-house voters,” says West. “But you see today we do it very fast. So, if there is not very much of a line, they can vote within minutes.”

People in Cleveland are not just voting for a new American president and vice-president but also for state senators, Congress representatives, state attorneys, the county council, the Board of Education and the Chief Justice of the local Supreme Court.

Apart from that, votes are required on, among other things, a school tax levy, alcohol sales in certain bars and a five-year improvement plan for one of the city’s suburbs.

Last-minute campaigning in Cleveland, Ohio
Last-minute campaigning in Cleveland, Ohio Jan van der Made/RFI


At the start of the queue, just before a board that warns “no campaigning beyond this point" (in English and Spanish), activists are handing out leaflets.

“I campaign for Joan Synenberg for judge,” says Nick Durdow. “She is a Republican and she is endorsed by Black Lives Matter, she is all for the black community.”

But for the presidential election, Durdow voted for Clinton.

“I believe in most of the stuff she stands for, rather than the things that Donald Trump says, what he stands for, so that’s why I don’t vote for Trump.

“Why would I want to vote for someone who doesn’t want to have people to have health insurance?”

Stephen Barkham, a Trump supporter
Stephen Barkham, a Trump supporter Jan van der Made/RFI

Others disagree.

“I believe in the things Trump says he is going to do for the nation,” says Stephen Barkham. “We need somebody strong and out of the norm for politics.

“He’s supposed to bring a lot of jobs back to Ohio. We’ve lost tons and tons of jobs here. I believe in what he wants to do with immigration.”

Trump won a small victory when a restraining order brought by the Cleveland Democratic Party against the Trump campaign last Friday seeking to prevent intimidation of voters at polling stations was overruled by a court in Cincinnati on Sunday.

“Propaganda,” says Barkham. “Just some stuff some that the Democrats trying to bring up and just make Trump look bad. Never believed in that at all”.

Meanwhile, about a million voters in Ohio were “purged” from the voting lists and didn’t receive ballots.

Brian Davis
Brian Davis Jan van der Made/RFI

“That’s understandable whet it concerns people who die and people who move to other states,” says Brian Davis, director for the North-East Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, which helps to register homeless people so they can participate in the electoral process. “But this was done improperly and without much notice.”

Together with a lawyers' collective, the NEOCH successfully sued the Board of Elections and got over 1,000 people back on the voting rolls in Cleveland alone.

“It is now legal for homeless people to give the GPS coordinates of the bench they are sleeping on. The board actually sent people out to give them them their ballot papers,” says Davis.

The NEOCH picks the homeless up with a van and helps them going through registration if necessary.

“They need to participate in the electoral process more than anyone else,” says Davis.

Back at the polling station, the queue has grown longer and activists have become noisier. Davis expects some trouble for the election day itself.

Tessa, a Clinton supporter
Tessa, a Clinton supporter Jan van der Made/RFI

“There will be more police, and we will have volunteers at the parking lots near the polling stations,” says Davis.

“We will take pictures of anyone who may be trying to get in the way of the voters and report it immediately to the police,” he says.

But Tessa, an African-American and a Clinton supporter “since Trump announced he was going to run”, thinks there won’t be many problems.

“He is already a bully. He won’t need others to do it for him,” she says.

To read our coverage of this year's US presidential election click here

To look back at the 2012 US presidential election click here

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