Thousands of Republicans were on Tuesday placed inside polling stations in Ohio to challenge the eligibility of voters after a federal appeal court overturned an earlier legal decision that their presence would intimidate minority voters and could create chaos and delays.
The legal victory for the Republicans came in the early hours of yesterday morning when federal judges ruled that the lower district courts had exaggerated the potential for intimidation.
"The district courts have found a possible chamber of horrors in voting places throughout the state of Ohio based on no evidence whatsoever, save unsubstantiated predictions and speculation," argued judge James Ryan in his written opinion.
In the unusually long line that wound its way from Kings School, in Akron, at 7am on Tuesday, Democrat Jodi Delamatre doubted there would be challengers inside. "This isn't a black neighborhood so I don't think they'll bother," she said.
But half an hour later, as she picked up her punch card, the Republican challenger was there, a bespectacled middle-aged woman smiling benignly.
Inside the booth Delamatre stuck the small pen-like pin hard through the punch card next to Democrat John Kerry and held it down for a long time. "I've got to make sure it counts," she said. "I don't want to leave anything to chance."
US President George W. Bush won Ohio by 4 percent in 2000 and the Republicans have never won an election without taking the state. But over the last four years there have been heavy job losses in manufacturing industry, making it one of the most sought-after swing states and producing one of the most intense efforts to get the vote out.
On Sunday Susan Aylward received five phone calls -- three from Democrats and two from Republicans asking for her vote. One was a taped "robocall" from Arnold Schwarzenegger. On Monday she was at the Democratic party's phone bank punching numbers and reading her lines.
"This election is the most important election in our lifetime," she said. "We know the election will be very close. John Kerry needs your vote as your vote is your voice."
If the people she called were receptive, she made sure they knew where their nearest polling station was and asked if they needed a lift. Some expressed exasperation at being called too often. A handful were Republicans who had slipped through the screening process.
One woman told another volunteer that Jesus would not want her to vote for Kerry.
At the entrance to the Democratic party headquarters of Summit County, in which Akron sits, a poster said "Got time? Wave signs." They call it "visibility" work and on street corners throughout the city the faithful were out yesterday, even as dark clouds posed a constant threat.
Inside, the scene was one of frenetic activity. Kerry staffers paced the floor speaking through headsets while volunteers marched through with bags of bagels and crateloads of bottled water.
Volunteers plotted how to ensure a steady flow of information to the phone bank captains and canvass captains as election day progressed.
This is the ground war: Election through hand-to-hand combat. And the shock troops went into the field to perform the "knock and drag" -- canvassing door-to-door and then dragging people to the polls. At a pep talk for canvassers yesterday morning a coordinator tried to keep them focused. "People may want to talk to you about what's going on," he said. "But that's not what we're here for. It's not about arguing or convincing or anything. It's about who's voted and who hasn't."