Even the "drug men" turn out in Cleveland


Michelle Goldberg
November 2, 2004 11:16PM (UTC)

It's pouring rain in Cleveland. After much legal wrangling, a last-minute court ruling allowed Republican challengers into polling places, and according to America Coming Together's Rashad Alaji, who was meeting with volunteers in the basement of Cleveland's Shiloh Baptist Church, they're slowing down the process by demanding identification from some voters. Usually the only time poll workers ask for ID, he says, is when they can't find someone on their lists. Thus many voters are "resistant" to such challenges coming from outsiders. "The lines are long not only because of turnout, but also because of red tape," he says.

But for all that, Cleveland is a lovely place to be a Democrat today.

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Political analysts say that in order to carry Ohio, Kerry needs heavy turnout in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland and which is the most solidly Democratic part of the state. So far, despite everything, that's exactly what he's getting. In fact, people here say they've never seen anything like it.

At a polling place that serves Case Western students and parts of inner city Cleveland, Jim Petropouleas, a Democratic poll-watcher and Cleveland native, says, "There's more young voters than anyone's ever seen. I had a lady come out and say she's been voting here for 37 years and she'd never seen anything like this."

At some places, people are waiting 30 or 40 minutes to vote, and a few have left, saying they needed to get to work. But Alaji is convinced that even long lines and bad whether won't dissuade most people. "Not this time," he says. "The African-American and Latino communities are out in force. Everyone is feeling a sense of camaraderie."

"Most people here from what I'm hearing have never voted before in their lives," says Michael Bonner, a 34-year-old police officer who was waiting for a friend in the hallway of Harry David Jr. High School, a polling place in a predominantly black section of the city full of boarded-up buildings and vacant lots.

"Even the drug dealers came out and voted today!" says Dan Lawson, a hulking 27-year-old electrician. An older man standing nearby nodded in agreement, saying, "That's right. Even the drug men."

"I've never seen anything like this," Lawson says, "and I may never see anything like this again."

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Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg is a frequent contributor to Salon and the author of "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism" (WW Norton).

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