Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's presidential election, Americans lose, according to dissatisfied voters in rural Stark County.
"It's a ridiculous election," said Amy Rice, 26, of Canton South, shortly after casting her ballot for Republican candidate Mitt Romney. "Romney is not the best candidate; there are no winners here. I'm just voting to keep our rights."
Romney and President Barack Obama will closely monitor results in Stark County. Michael Barrone, political analyst and author of the book "The Almanac of American Politics," said Stark County is a bellwether in a crucial swing state. The outcome here should give the candidates a better idea of their chances statewide, he said.
Obama won here in 2008, beating John McCain 51.59 percent to 46.14 percent. In 2004, the county narrowly backed John Kerry against George W. Bush, and in 2000, Bush beat Al Gore by about 3,000 votes among 160,000 ballots cast.
Rice and her boyfriend, Tim Boyle, 25, said they do not identify with a political party. Rather, they call themselves pro-Americans or constitutionalists.
"I own a private security/bodyguard company, so the right to bear arms is important to me," Boyle said.
Boyle served in the Army and fought overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he is disappointed that Obama focuses on welfare programs "for people who just sit at home and do nothing" while returning vets struggle to find jobs.
"To have guys who have given everything they have coming home and they can't find work, it's not right,"' he said. Most of his employees are veterans, he said.
Josh Wehr, 22, of East Sparta voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.
It's time Americans had a viable third party candidate, he said. Johnson in recent days said the Libertarian ticket can get 5 percent of the vote and thereby establish itself as a relevant player in American politics.
"It's always Democrats and Republicans, and I don't agree with the policies of Obama or Romney," Wehr said. "It's time for a change. We definitely have a chance for a third party."
Wehr, who is gay, said he supports Johnson in part because he endorses gay marriage.
Obama said in an interview this year that his views of gay marriage have "evolved" to the point that he now endorses such unions. But Wehr said Obama has not done enough.
"He repealed 'don't ask, don't tell,' but Obama still has a long way to go," Wehr said. "He's had four years to make plenty of changes, and he didn't."
In Canton, the county seat of Stark County, Derek Long has known for years how he would vote.
A 21-year-old black man, Long, voting in his first presidential election, supports Obama, saying he still is stunned that the Democrat won in 2008.
"I never even thought we'd have a black vice president," Long said Tuesday morning outside the VFW Post 3747 polling place. "I mean, there's still racism, I don't care what anybody says. But at least we can vote for a black man now."
Others pray Obama doesn't win again, and said race has nothing to do with it.
"Republicans are people who have something to protect; Democrats are people who want something," said John Klingaman, 45, who owns a machinery repair business in Canton. "I want to protect what I have. I voted for Mitt Romney."
Pre-school teacher Kelsey Kane, 21, also voted in her first presidential election Tuesday. She backed Obama.
Unlike others in this campaign-weary state, Kane said she enjoyed being the center of the candidates' attention. She watched every debate and never tired of the ubiquitous political ads.
"I thought it was kind of neat," she said. "It was kind of cool that we were the only state people relied on."
Long supports Obama not only because of his skin color, but because of his support for college grants and debt relief. He is a student at Stark State College in North Canton, and works 35 hours a week as a restaurant cook to help pay for tuition, he said.
"Obama is the only one who can relate to what I'm going through now," he said. "Romney can't relate to me at all."
Though Klingaman backs Romney, he is not optimistic about the Republican's chances.
He criticized Romney's campaign, saying he alienated blacks, gays and -- most recently -- women with his anti-abortion views.
"I don't think he's going to win," he said. "I think we're done for."
Whoever wins, he may have to wait a few days to find out. Paul Sracic, chair of the Political Science Department at Youngstown State University, said he expects vote-counting in Ohio to drag on for a while.
"I've seen where there will be 100,000 provisional ballots cast, and I have a hard time seeing this election being won by 100,000 votes," he said. "If that's the case, then we're in court."
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