The starting gun: in a grey and rainy Ohio, early voting begins

Nicky Woolf's latest dispatch from Hicksville, Defiance County.

A new morning means a new email from the campaigns. Usually, it means several new emails of increasing neediness – fundraising deadlines have been approaching recently. But today's are different. Today, the campaign enters a new phase today. Today's emails are Get-Out-The-Vote emails.

At eight this morning across a grey and rainy Ohio, polling stations opened to allow early voting. Hicksville's nearest is in the county seat of Defiance, and the polling station is in the local electoral services office. Six or seven people queue good-naturedly in the warm.

Semi-retired warehouse worker Todd Walker describes himself as an independent. “I looked at both candidates, and I made my decision. I voted for the President. I wish there was a better candidate from the Republican party, but there isn't.”

It is not just the Presidential election that excites people here. Ohio Restricting Amendment, Issue 2 has been proposed by the state's Democrat party; it is an ordinance which prevents gerrymandering. It is foremost in people's minds outside the Defiance polling booth. “Issue 2 is the most important to us,” says Susan Brogan, who has come with her wheelchair-bound mother Sherry to beat the queues.  Todd Walker agrees: “I don't want gerrymandering.”

Jim Jurcevitch, at the board of elections, is helping to operate the station. He is not expecting a rush today. “Educated guess? There'll be about 200, because of the weather.”

Early voting is a crucial factor. In Defiance county in the 2008 Presidential election there were 4,800 early ballots cast – both in-person and absentee. McCain's majority in the county was only a little over over 2,000 – and the ratio is the same all over the state, where more than quarter of a million early votes were cast. Early voting could carry Ohio – that's why there's been so much foul play around early voting here. The campaigns are trying to capitalise on this huge electoral resource.

Charlie Grey is the chair of the local Democratic party. I ask if he's expecting trouble, and he answers quickly: “Yes. But it won't be widespread.” He squares his shoulders like a man about to go to war. “We're watching for it.”

There's no sign of trouble at the Defiance polling station. Sherry Brogan doesn't feel like an electoral resource; she's just enjoying flexing her democratic muscles. “It feels great,” she tells me as she and her daughter head for the exit. “I could do it all over again.”

A voter at the Wood County Court House October 2 in Bowling Green, Ohio. Photo: Getty

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.