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Ohioans Say Election Was True Demonstration of Democracy

Ohio's status as a so-called "battleground state" - or too close to call - has energized voters and political activists alike. VOA's Peter Heinlein spent the day on the streets of Ohio's capital, Columbus, where he witnessed a rare picture of democracy at work.

It was a miserable, rainy day on the streets of Columbus. It was the kind of day to stay indoors.

But a walk through the city's streets revealed wild scenes of last minute campaigning - partisans and political workers, ordinary citizens, from Ohio and across the nation, urging everyone they saw to cast a ballot.

Even long-time followers of politics said, in all their lives, they have never seen an election like it.

Charlie Marlatt, a businessman from suburban Franklin County, applied tape to his wife Becky Slisher's plastic rain coat in a vain attempt to keep out the water as she stood on a street corner waving a Kerry sign at passing motorists.

Despite being bone-chillingly drenched after standing all day in a steady drizzle, Ms. Slisher called the experience "heartwarming."

Her husband, Charlie Marlatt, said he had been waiting for this election day, because he believed the 2000 election had been mishandled. He said, after four years of George Bush, he was sure the country was ready for a change. "I don't know why there's so many people for George Bush. I can't figure it out," he said.

A few blocks away, a similar scene featured Bush supporters. Businessman Robin Morse said he and several family members had come from Houston to help the president's cause in a state he believes could make the difference. "I believe in the president, and I think it's the least we can do," he said. "We've got troops over in Iraq, going through more than I'm going through. A little rain's not gonna hurt me."

A few blocks farther on, at an intersection not far from the Ohio state capital building, the mood was festive, as a crowd of Kerry supporters whipped motorists into a horn-honking frenzy. Victory seemed within sight.

But on one corner, a lone figure stood, dressed in military fatigues, wearing a black beret, holding a Bush-Cheney sign. He refused to identify himself, saying he is an active duty soldier just back from Iraq.

He stood quietly, occasionally buoyed by a motorist who would swing over and flash him a "thumbs up." Watching the scene across the intersection, he called it "a display of democracy in action."

"They have the right to do what they're doing. We fight for their freedom in the United States and around the world. So, I think it's great to see this. Some countries don't have that choice. So, they're allowed that opportunity, and I think it's great," said the soldier. And if their man wins, how would he feel? "Well, he'll be the next president, the commander-in-chief, I'll follow his orders as a soldier," he replied.

The soldier was drenched, as were his counterparts on the other side of the street. As darkness fell over the city, the excitement was palpable on the city's streets. Nearby polling stations in a largely African-American area were swamped with voters waiting to cast their ballots.

Kerry signs and Bush signs littered the landscape, along with those of a dozen local and state candidates. But as Republicans and Democrats packed up and went home to watch the results on television, they agreed on one thing. This was an exercise in democracy like nothing they have ever seen.