Across the street, campaign volunteers grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, and passed out hot chocolate and coffee.
And then there was Stevie Wonder, who showed up for an unannounced concert for about 100 spectators a few blocks away at Cleveland State University, before stopping by the polling place in a black SUV to the gasps of waiting voters.
Public polls in Ohio show President Obama holds a wide lead over Mitt Romney among voters who have voted since polls opened to early voters Oct. 2.
Four years ago, early voting was a option for each of the five weekends during the voting period. This year that was reduced to one. Some Ohio election boards, particularly in urban counties, have been reporting that fewer people have so far taken advantage of the in-person early-vote option this year, when polls until now have been open only on workdays.
But the Ohio secretary of state’s office said Saturday that, statewide, 1.6 million people had voted by mail or in person as of Friday, a figure that puts the state on track to top 2008 early-vote tallies.
In Cuyahoga, 36,578 had voted as of Friday; in 2008, that number was 43,402 . In 2008, there were nine additional early voting days here, and 9,933 people voted on those days.
More than 3,000 people voted Saturday.
Republican state leaders had sought to allow only military voters to cast ballots this weekend as well, but Democrats won a court battle arguing that if polls were open to some, they must be open to all.
That means Obama’s effort here hinges on getting a huge turnout this weekend, particularly Sunday when buses will roll straight from church services to the polls.
“The more people who vote in Ohio, the better President Obama’s chances of winning there are,” the campaign’s national field director, Jeremy Bird, wrote in a memo to reporters Friday. A study released last month by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law underscored why early voting favored Democrats.
The study found that black voters — who overwhelmingly favor Obama — used early in-person voting at approximately 26 times the rate of white voters.
“This is what works for working-class folks. If they have a 9-to-5 job, they’ve got kids to pick up and a lot going on, the weekend is when they’ll be able to get time to go vote,” said Michael Gillis, a spokesman for the Ohio AFL-CIO, which is running its own mass get-out-the-vote effort this weekend.
They are voters like Brenda Herbert, 61, who came to vote in Cleveland on Saturday with her 93-year-old father, Clarence Yarbrough. She said she must take care of her grandchildren Tuesday while her daughter goes to a new job.