Republican voter and retired union carpenter Richard Justman caused a stir Monday morning after he and a team of Republicans and independents showed up outside Franklin County, Ohio’s early-voting center with a van, a truck and several tables decked out in pro-Romney signs.
The 59-year-old’s van was legally parked outside of the “free speech line” that restricts political campaigning within 100 feet of the voting center. Previously, Democratic campaigners have parked in the same spot.
Election officials asked Justman to move his truck, which took up several spots in the large shopping center parking lot. He refused.
“It was all right for this gentleman and his vehicle to be there; we just asked if he would please move back a couple of rows to where some similar vehicles were parked so that voters would have more parking spaces closer to the voting center,” Franklin County Board of Elections spokesman Ben Piscitelli told The Daily Caller. “We didn’t want to make a bigger deal out of this than it was.”
Some observers said Justman was threatened with police arrest if he did not comply. Justman’s lawyers advised him that he had no legal obligation to move if he did not want to.
“We never called the police. We have 24/7 Franklin County sheriffs that are always there, because you never know what’s going to happen,” William Anthony, the board of elections director, told TheDC. “They did go and talk to the police, but we didn’t have them do anything. So, everything is cool.”
Justman said that, because the neighborhood is predominantly Democratic, the Romney campaign “basically abandoned any effort” to be there.
“But we didn’t see it that way,” Justman told TheDC. “So Monday around 1 or 2 a.m., we came up here to the parking lot and just kind of camped out until morning.”
Observers said that, ever since the early-voting center opened in early October, it was swamped with Democratic supporters and had no Republican campaigners.
“It looked like I was pulling into Democratic headquarters. … These people were going after every single person and literally telling them how they need to vote,” conservative observer Dave Fitzpatrick told TheDC. “I’m just a citizen that was concerned that people going in there would be very intimidated if they were Republican.”
Fitzpatrick uploaded a short YouTube video shot Monday of Justman’s truck, van and tables.
Long-time Democratic volunteer Carole DePaola said that their goal is not to force people to vote a certain way, but to get sample ballots into the hands of voters.
“We would have Republican voters getting mad and angry with us, saying ‘Where are the Republicans?’” DePaola told TheDC. “And we would say, ‘That’s not our problem.’”
DePaola said her fellow Democratic volunteers are not paying much attention to Justman’s truck.
“I don’t know what their purpose is. We really don’t have that much interaction,” DePaola explained to TheDC. “We try not to be confrontational.”
Conservative volunteer Alicia Healy said Democratic volunteers have chastised her for putting up pro-Romney signs next to their pro-Obama signs.
“It was almost as if they were saying, ‘This is our turf and now you’re trying to take over,’” Healy told TheDC. “And all [Justman] is doing is parking his car with some information on it. Is it such a big deal? Democrats have been there for two weeks and nobody said anything … but the minute [Republicans] do something, then it’s like the fangs come out.”
When Healy noticed there were only Democratic volunteers passing out slate cards at the early-voting center last week, she began rounding up Republican volunteers to help her pass out Republican slate cards.
Justman and his team stayed at their spot overnight Monday.
For now, Justman said he and his team are planning to continue camping out in their spot. Local Republicans have expressed their excitement to him that there is finally some Republican presence at the early-voting center.
“We’ve been having kind of a little success story here,” Justman told TheDC. “We’re just kind of playing this by ear.”