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Crunch time in Ohio, as Obama, Romney blitz to get out the vote

Both campaigns are swarming Ohio, knocking on doors and making phone calls to potential voters. In these last crucial days, getting out the vote in what may be the deciding state of Election 2012 is paramount.

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But the racial dimension of voting in Ohio hasn't ended. Billboards posted in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus (as well as Milwaukee) featured this message: "Voter fraud is a felony! Up to 3 1/2 yrs & $10,000 fine." Local politicians and civil rights activists called the signs racist and intimidating.

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  • Ohio's electorate
  • Ohio's electorate

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Clear Channel Outdoor – the company that sold the ad space to an out-of-state family foundation that was granted anonymity – agreed to donate the use of 10 billboards with a different message: "Voting is a right. Not a crime!" A civil rights group based in Washington, D.C., is paying for additional billboards with a similar message, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.

On Oct. 21, Clear Channel announced it was taking down the "felony" billboards in Cleveland.

Early voting in Columbus: Passions run high

Inside the early-voting center in Columbus, located in a former Kohl's department store, one would hardly know that early voting had become such a fraught issue in Ohio. Two contractors, a Republican and a Democrat, keep watch over the facility that includes 100 electronic voting machines, making sure that correct procedures are followed.

But outside, beyond the yellow line that delineates where leafleting is allowed, passions run high. When Democratic volunteer Phyllis Elmo gives her name, she adds without being asked: "Yes, I want to save 'Sesame Street'!"

The frustration really pours out when Ms. Elmo, who is Roman Catholic, says she recently walked out of church for the first time in her life over the priest's sermon criticizing Obama on abortion.

"I'm pro-life, but it's not the most important issue," says Elmo, a retired state employee. "What about health care, services to people in poverty, and other things I was taught to have a social conscience about?"

A few yards away, Alicia Healy, wearing a red Romney T-shirt, says she decided to volunteer here after she came to vote and found many Democrats handing out leaflets, but no Republicans. Her issues?

"I am pro-life, I am pro-traditional marriage, I am pro-God, I am pro-freedom," says Ms. Healy, a tea party supporter. She is also African-American, a point that confounds the Obama supporters standing nearby.

Tom Zawistowski, head of the tea party-oriented Ohio Liberty Coalition, knows Healy and isn't surprised she's there. In fact, he says, tea partyers make up much of the army of volunteers at the Romney victory centers in Ohio, making phone calls and knocking on doors.

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