(THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED.)
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Voters in Ohio are often told they decide the election.
After all, the state’s 18 Electoral College votes have backed the eventual winner of every presidential election since 1964.
Residents waited until well into the evening to learn that the Associated Press had called the state for President Donald Trump, despite earlier indications that former Vice President Joe Biden was making the state competitive.
Even with the state in the GOP column, it will take several days to tabulate the final results of Ohio’s mail-in and in-person early voting, and final, certified results will be available no later than Nov. 28.
Home to nearly 8.1 million voters, Ohio saw a record-breaking 3.4 million votes cast prior to Election Day, according to the Secretary of State Frank LaRose.
In 2016, Trump narrowly won Ohio, receiving 52.1 percent of the vote. This year, Democrats were hoping key issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the sagging economy, would sway undecided and centrist voters to back Biden.
The former vice president, who visited Cleveland on Monday, spoke with rally attendees about voter disenfranchisement, COVID, and how Trump has broken his promises to Ohio voters.
“Remember the lies he told all the workers?” Biden asked. “He told the families of the GM plant in Lordstown. … ‘Don’t move.’ But then the plant shut down. … What about his threat and his grudge against Goodyear? What about his broken promise to protect pensions for workers, especially…employer pensions?”
Many Ohio voters shared concerns about jobs and the disappearing middle class, but that did not necessarily lead them to vote for Biden.
“We need to get this country back to where it was, job-wise,” said Cassie Humphrey, a Licking County resident and Trump voter. “Trump can do that. He’s shown he can do that. But Democrats have been fighting him since he got into office. They never gave him a chance.”
Tyler Arroyo, a Heath resident, felt the same.
“Trump is creating more jobs,” he said after casting his ballot early on Sunday. “And, there’s the lowest Black unemployment rate in history.”
Kyrsten Lee, a Columbus resident and student at Columbus College of Art and Design, had concerns about Trump’s job record when casting her ballot for Biden.
“The handling of the pandemic has completely shut down my line of work,” Lee, a fashion designer, said. “There’s no end to this in sight, either.”
While some conservative voters cast their ballots for Trump in 2016 and 2020, several said the events of 2020 forced them to change their minds.
“We have so much information and facts at our fingertips,” Newark voter Shannon Weekly said, that it’s easy to fact-check the misinformation surrounding this year’s events.
Latoya Graves, a Biden supporter in Columbus, also questioned misinformation while deciding how to cast her vote.
“I’m a fact checker, and I’m generally non partisan,” Graves said. “I just care about the truth.”
What makes Ohio especially unpredictable is the varied population: with more than 77 percent of its population in major cities, and the rest in suburban and rural areas, the divide between rural Republicans and urban Democrats is significant.
The divide is particularly felt in the Columbus metropolitan area. While Columbus, part of Franklin County, is urban, developed, and quickly growing, bordering counties, including Licking, are rural, poor, and struggling.
In Licking, only 2 percent of the land is considered “urban,” according to the Ohio Historical Society, while the rest of the county is agricultural, home to suburban developments and factories. And, more than 9 percent of the residents live in poverty, according to U.S. census data.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, residents are losing jobs and going without pay. Some voters said that significantly impacted how they felt about the election.
Noel Taylor, a college student voting for the first time in a presidential election, said he voted for Trump for several reasons, but his family thought the president was doing a great job handling the economy and the job market despite COVID.
“COVID is being used as a political tool, and it’s being overhyped to make it seem worse,” Taylor said.
Some voters said they were concerned about increased civil unrest following a summer of sometimes violent protests in central Ohio.
“Election night violence is a huge concern,” said Elizabeth Orend, a Newark voter, after casting her vote for a third-party candidate early on Sunday afternoon.
In May, protests across the country erupted following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minnesota. Protesters in Columbus marched peacefully for several days, but smaller groups broke into the State Capitol building, covered the city in graffiti, and looted several local businesses. Columbus Police tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed journalists and Columbus Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty, among others.
Bill, a Licking County resident and Columbus police officer, said he voted for Trump because he supports “law and order,” and the violence he saw during the protests over the summer challenged him.
Some said they were afraid similar violence might happen again.
Columbus Police officers are “working 12 hour shifts now,” Bill said, to be prepared for any potential violence on election night, though he hopes everything “stays under control.”
Others, though, are more concerned with voter disenfranchisement than they are with possible protests and violence.
“Republicans are more committed to winning than to democracy,” according to Steve Shapiro, a Columbus Biden voter and teacher.
“Republicans have to prevent people from voting,” he said, and they do this by “only allowing one polling place per county, fewer voting machines in poor areas, and even just throwing out votes.”
With only one polling place per county in Ohio in the days leading up to the election, Licking County saw record turnout for its 120,000 registered voters, while Franklin County struggled to meet the demand of its 800,000 registered voters.
“People talk about voter apathy and indifference,” Shapiro said, “but there’s so much commitment and enthusiasm (in Franklin County).”
Many Columbus residents waited several hours to cast their ballots in person during early voting. But in the end, they said it was worth it to beat the really long lines on Election Day.
On Election Day, the Columbus online voter check-in system went down, forcing poll workers to manually check off voter’s names on paper.
While the glitch may have slowed voters down, the Franklin County Board of Elections tweeted: “This is why we have contingency plans in place and the process is working.”