Gary, Indiana-Taking advantage of the last day of early voting, a line of roughly 500 people, mostly Black, snaked around the Gary Courthouse on Monday morning. “I don’t mind the wait,” said a cheerful Denise Hogan, 43, who was still outside the building after standing in line for two hours. “We’re making history.”
If the large, unprecedented turnout for early voting is any indication, residents of Gary-a liberal, predominantly Black city-may very well make political waves. Although Indiana has given its electoral college votes to Republicans for the past four decades, this year it is considered a battleground state. Indiana Democrats have run aggressive voter registration drives, signing up half a million new voters across the state, and they have been vigilant about fighting against voter suppression.
“We have put in every effort we could to make sure that Barack Obama is elected,” says Elsie Franklin, chairwoman of the Gary Democratic Party, “and to make sure that we turn Indiana into a blue state.” Last month, for example, when Republicans on the county election board tried to block early voting sites from opening in Gary and two other cities with large minority populations, local Democrats got a judge to overrule the decision.
Gary is also prepared for suppression efforts that may crop up on Election Day. “I think the main problem that we’ll have to deal with is making sure everybody gets an opportunity to vote,” says State Senator Earline Rogers, who also coordinates a get-out-the-vote campaign in Gary. “We know people might be discouraged by the long lines, but we’re working with the Obama campaign. They’re going to have monitors at each poll site, providing people in line with refreshments, water and chairs, making people as comfortable as possible.”
The Obama campaign, which had volunteers busily working the phones at their Gary headquarters on Monday, will also have people observing the polls for voter protection. “We have people to manage the lines; we have attorneys outside the polling sites; and we have people documenting the numbers of voters,” says LunYe Marsh, an Obama campaign volunteer from Chicago. Campaign workers have also challenged laws in Indiana that forbade people from voting if they were waiting in line a certain distance from the door at closing time. “Fortunately, that issue has been dealt with,” says Marsh. “Now anybody who had already been in line when the polls close will be able to vote.”
Indiana’s watchful get-out-the-vote efforts are a comfort to Jereldean Rodgers, 74, who waited patiently in line for early voting while sitting in a metal folding chair. “I’ve been around for quite a while, but I’ve never seen anything like this election in my life,” she said. “It’s very emotional for me because I’m from Mississippi, and there I couldn’t vote. There I didn’t have a voice. But now, I’m going down fighting.”