Voters snaked down the sidewalk at the Franklin County Board of Elections on Tuesday morning. Past the music shop, past the pizza place, past the department store, to coil up in the parking lot at the opposite end of the strip mall.
They planned ahead – showing up early, bundled against the chill and toting folding chairs for the wait.
“Four o’clock,” board director Ed Leonard says of the first arrivals. “They had a group that was coming here at 6 a.m., and when they got here at 6 a.m., there were already people at 4 a.m. And our security people told us their cameras identified people lining up at 4 a.m.”
Cheryl Turner is wearing a hand-knitted shawl patterned in rusty orange, brown and black. She and her husband James are near the back of the line in the parking lot, but she wanted to be one of the first.
“I wanted to get out here today because this vote is very important, and I didn’t want to wait ‘til the last minute, and I wanted to get my vote in early,” she says.
James Turner is wearing a Vietnam Veteran hat, and looking around, he says that he served to make sure the people in line could vote.
“This election is very important, and there’s some changes that need to be made," he says. "And we’re going to do that through due process. That’s how we’re going to do it, without any problems.”
Allison Villafana-Davis and Tomar Scott are also veterans, and they met through a weekly group for vets with disabilities
Villafana-Davis says that, with rumors swirling about vote by mail, she wanted to ensure her vote got in and got in early. She said she twisted Scotts arm into coming along with her.
“I told him he’s going with me, and he’s going to vote because he had no intentions of it, and I told him it was his constitutional duty to vote, and that his one vote might be the one that makes a difference," she says.
Scott explains he was discouraged initially because it often feels as though a single vote doesn’t matter. But Villafana-Davis’ arguments had an impact, and he began to see his participation in a larger context than simply casting one vote.
“I got young Black sons,” Scott says. “And if they see me doing it, as they get older, like she said, their one vote might make a difference. So I try to lead by example.”
On the first day of early voting in 2016, just shy of 2,500 people cast a ballot in Franklin County. This year, Board of Elections spokesman Aaron Sellers says about 550 voted in just the first hour and a half. By the close of the day at 5 p.m., the board reported 3,423 people had voted.
Early voting continues for the next four weeks until Election Day. Polls will be open at every county's early voting center (typically the board of elections) from 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. each weekday this week and next. After that, hours expand later into the evening and into the weekend as November 3 nears.
In addition to its secure 24-hour dropbox, the Franklin County Board of Elections has set up a drive-through drop-off site in its parking lot for voters who requested an absentee ballot and want to drop it off.