By Alexandra Cogan, Mona Dougani, Noah Foshée, Jalen Holloway, Shannon McGuire, and Austin Watkins.
Edited by Mona Dougani
After months of wrangling over absentee ballots and early voting, Americans still in the midst of pandemic shut downs headed to the polls today to cast ballots in one of the most contentious presidential elections in recent history.
Six Queens Chronicle reporters, based in North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Brazil, interviewed early voters last week as they lined up outside polling stations to hear what these Americans are thinking as they cast their ballots.
Some voters raced in and out of polling places, eschewing conversations with reporters. Some answered questions cautiously. Others engaged enthusiastically, offering pointed opinions and observations about candidates and the state of American politics.
Almost all, however, said that voting this election season was a vital expression of democracy.
This Summer’s Presidential Election: American ExPats in Brazil Cast Their Votes
By Alexandra Cogan
The Northern Hemisphere may be cooling down, but the 2020 Presidential election has left U.S. citizens the world ‘round sweltering in the heat of political competition. US expats in Brazil may be living away from their homeland but many have remained true to their democratic roots by continuing to vote despite the distance.
One Minnesotan, a military veteran who has lived in Brazil for the past three years, said the most difficult aspect of voting this election was “dealing with postage and Brazilian Postal Services.”
American citizens overseas are able to vote by mail and drop-off ballots at their local U.S. consulates, embassy or foreign post office.
Another expat said that he found the overseas voting process quite easy. “It was virtually the same as when I’m in Washington state,’’ he said. “I received the ballot, filled it out, then mailed it back through embassy mail.”
No matter which method they used, U.S. citizens interviewed said that they felt a strong sense of civic duty to cast ballots this year.
“I have visited many countries that do not allow free and fair elections,’’ said one two-time war veteran. “Voting is one of the most important civic responsibilities an American has. No matter who you vote for, vote, please!”
This sentiment was shared among all the expats surveyed, except one man from Ohio who emphasized an American citizen’s freedom to choose.
“I encourage people to use their freedom not to vote if they don’t want to,’’ he said. “The choice is theirs.”
This current election year has left voters at home and overseas more nervous than usual.
“I am saddened by how politically divided and charged the USA has become,’’ said an Arizona woman who emigrated from the U.S. four years ago. “I am saddened that people have lost empathy and forgiveness.”
“I believe this election and these two candidates are a mess,’’ echoed another expat. “No matter who wins, we all lose sadly.”
Indeed, the 2020 election is a nail biter that is leaving Americans at home and abroad feeling more divided, or apathetic, than ever. As Americans continue to cast their votes today, the world waits.
“Vote or Die” Early Voters Passionate about Civic Duty at Ballot Box
By Mona Dougani
Even after a tropical storm passed through Charlotte early Thursday morning, voters continued to trickle in-and-out of the Queens Sports Complex voting site on Tyvola Rd. Poll volunteers sat near the entrance, under the awning, giving directions and answering questions, while eager voters walked into the building, ready to cast their ballots, the dark clouds and volatile weather unable to deter them from exercising their right to vote.
“I have voted in every election— local and presidential since I was 18,” said Daniel Cunningham, a local Charlotte photographer, and former Bernie Bro. “It is our local duty. It is important to stand up for what you believe. Our only true way of standing up for ourselves is through voting,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham, who came with his wife to vote, does not prefer early voting, something that Pete McHale, a retail store worker, connects with.
“I got my vote in,’’ said McHale as he walked out of the polling station at the Queens University Sports Complex in Charlotte’s Madison Park neighborhood. “I prefer voting on election day, but I was off today, and I thought I would come to the polls. It was easy to get here, and there was no traffic.”
McHale, who is focused on issues like the economy and law enforcement, said that he is confident his candidate will prioritize these matters. “I think ‘law-and-order’ is good to ensure that people obey the law, and the economy has always been an important issue for me. COVID-19 has hurt the economy, but I think my candidate is the best for the job,” he said.
Other voters have different priorities. Sonya Douglas, who works in transportation, says that unity and social justice issues are most important to her.
“We need a true agent of change in office, whatever office we are referring to,’’ she said. “We need someone to see things through and help generations to come. I thank my ancestors and women who fought for me to (get to) vote. I am trying to do the same for future generations.”
Douglas said that she was happy to early vote Thursday as it fit her schedule and it meant that she could bypass the lines and crowds of today’s Election Day.
Thaddeus Jones, a retired, disabled veteran, said that he was determined to vote early to avoid the crowd for health reasons, though in the past he voted on Election Day. Jones said that he is most concerned about COVID-19 as he is “high-risk’’ for the infection, and he says the current administration has done a “terrible job” dealing with the issue as the economy has worsened.
“I am not enthusiastic about politicians at all,’’ he said. “They are an unnecessary evil, but I am enthusiastic about getting the current incumbent out of office.’’
Not all voters agree with Jones, but those interviewed last week at the polls agreed that voting is crucial.
Their words for those who chose not to vote?
“What’s wrong with you?” said Cunningham. “It is easy. I think people make out voting to be difficult, but it is easy. This interview is taking longer than the time it took for me to vote. It is easy. Just do it. Like P Diddy said: Vote or Die.”
Both Jones and McHale said that nonvoters forfeit the right to complain about issues after the election.
“I wish everyone voted,’’ said McHale. “This election is important this year, probably more so than any other in my whole life. People die for us to vote.’’
For Douglas, that forfeit is critical. “In regard to nonvoters, I would say they are only cheating themselves by not voting. Voting is part of the process and is important.’’
But that is just the first step, she advised. “Writing to people in office and demanding change is the other piece.”
Even though voters may disagree about candidates, all echoed the call: go and vote.
The Swing State
By Shannon McGuire
Late last Thursday afternoon, the voting line at Marvin Ridge High School was almost empty. Three people stood in the front of the school handing out voting cards that provide example ballots. Political signage surrounded the walkway.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to walk right in,” said a 62-year-old Waxhaw resident. “It was cloudy and cold, so I am glad there wasn’t a long line.”
For those concerned that they might not be able to vote in time, early voting has given people an extra opportunity to exercise their right. Many have traveled long hours to be able to vote this year.
“I wanted to vote early because I don’t go to school in North Carolina,” said one college student in North Carolina. “I would’ve had to go home from school for the day to vote, and I couldn’t do that because of classes. And I’m three hours away from home.”
North Carolina is an important state during this election as it is considered a “swing state.” That means that voters are making sure to get their friends and family out to the polls because every vote matters.
“Their opinion matters no matter what they think,” said the 21-year-old college student. “Don’t just sit back and watch things happen, do something to help change it.”
The 62-year-old Waxhaw resident had something different to say. “It’s their choice not to vote, but at the end of the day it’s your right.”
With more than 100 million Americans casting absentee or early votes this year, it appears that people are engaging in increasing numbers due to specific issues that both parties feel are important.
“The economy is important to me because I don’t want to be taxed more,” said the 62-year-old. “Guns are also my second amendment right to own and don’t want those taken away.”
On Saturday morning, at a polling station near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 50 college students were lined up and ready to vote.
“We don’t have election day off, so we decided to vote today because I think it’s going to be really crowded on election day,” said a 20-year-old computer science major. “The wait wasn’t long at all,’’ he added. “I waited around 15 minutes with my roommates.’’
“Social issues are very important to me,” said another voter in line, a 19-year-old sports business major. “I feel like certain candidates’ personal parties are very focused on the business aspect and economics while we have many other large problems at hand.”
North Carolina may be known as a swing state, but people still worry about whether their individual votes matter.
“I think that the way the electoral college is, it’s not fair,” said the computer science major. “Hillary Clinton got millions of more votes than Donald Trump, and she still lost by a lot in the electoral college. It’s hard to think that your vote really matters. But in this case, there are millions of more people voting this year.”
Others felt empowered by the swing-state designation.
“This is a battle-ground state,” said another sports business major. “I would say every vote counts here more than other states that are usually always red or blue.’’
“I would just ask why not vote?” said the computer science major. “So many people that live in America don’t have that same right to vote and they would literally kill to be able to vote. People who do have that right and have the time and resources to go do it, I just want to know why you wouldn’t.”
A Quiet Town Quietly Votes
By Noah Foshée
The church stood nearly empty, with less than a dozen cars in the parking lot. If it weren’t for the churchyard signs, you wouldn’t know that people were voting here in the most contentious election since 2000.
Texarkana lies in Texas’s 4th Congressional District, a reliably Republican district and previous home to John Ratcliffe, President Trump’s Director of National Intelligence.
Presidential politics is ingrained in this small town’s history. Though it’s population of less than 70,000 is modest, it is the hometown of Ross Perot, who ran for President in 1992 and 1996, carrying nearly 20 percent of the popular vote in the first election. President Bill Clinton’s hometown – Hope, Arkansas – is also just 30 minutes away.
Despite this heritage, when asked about how they were thinking about today’s election, none of the voters approached one afternoon last week at the church polling station were willing to be interviewed.
There were no Trump flags to be seen; no one was wearing their preferred candidate’s merchandise.
This could show that many people, here, may not be enthusiastic about their choice, and don’t want people to know for whom their ballots are cast.
On the flip side, it might also show mounting distrust felt by people towards the press and media.
Voting, Yes. Enthusiastic, Not Entirely at Queens University
By Austin Watkins
Voters at the Queens University of Charlotte’s sports complex were eager last week to vote in the upcoming presidential election. What seemed to start as a cloudy and misty day eventually became sunny and steady as voters came through to vote.
In interviews with voters leaving the poll, many said that they were enthusiastic about their vote being counted, but not necessarily about who they are voting for.
“I hope voters can make the conscious decision to vote for a better option,” said Sheryl Bady, a Charlotte resident who said that she is a regular voter. “There are many outcomes on what could happen after the election, but I am here to vote for what I feel is important to me.” Bady said that she is concerned for people with preexisting medical issues in hopes of being considered, alongside with other Medicare issues.
Fred Bady, Sheryl’s husband of 41 years, described the election as a “vote for the lesser of two evils.” Voting this year, however, he said, was particularly important. “We’re stuck in a mess, as a country,’’ he said. “And it’s our job to choose how to get out of this mess.”
As voters came out of the polling station, some said they preferred to keep their vote and opinions to themselves. One voter agreed to an interview but did not want to use her name.
“I’m very observant,’’ she said. “Both sides are looking at the picture part of the election and not the message.” Her focus? Issues affecting minorities in America and how these issues are being handled, or mishandled. “Both sides are trying to look good for their ads,’’ she said. “But riots still continue today, and nothing gets done about it.”
While some voters said that they feel strongly about the social issues, others said they put more importance on the health of the US economy.
Joe Thomas, 64, a native Charlottean, said that the economy was his priority in the polling booth. “I don’t want to discuss who I had voted for,’’ he said. “But I know what I hold important to me and what needs to be worked on.’’ What else was he concerned about? “Honesty and media,’’ he said.
Thomas had voted at the Queens sports complex in the last election and feels everything ran smoothly this year. He encourages people to vote, and if you cannot vote, help get others to the polls.
“If you do not vote, someone else will do it for you. So, don’t cry when you hate what you have.”
One State Two State Red State Blue State
By Jalen Holloway
On a rainy afternoon last week at the Rollins Edwards Community Center in Summerville, SC, a line of South Carolinians stood ready to cast their vote for the 2020 election. Chick-Fil-A sandwiches served as snacks and fun music was playing in the background — refreshing touches for such a serious time of the year.
Voters may have come with different opinions, but everyone seemed united in hope for a better next for years for America. Most of those interviewed said that their vote mattered and would impact the election season’s overall outcome. One man, however, was not so sure.
“I feel like it is important to vote today,” said the man, “But I don’t think my vote will particularly sway things. Maybe on the local level, but not as much on the overall grand scheme of things.”
The majority of voters interviewed said they were not enthusiastic about either candidate.
“It’s really just the lesser of the two evils,” said one voter, who stood with his/her family when asked about their enthusiasm about their candidate. Another couple, however, said they were “very enthusiastic” about their candidate, but they were “worried about the outcome.”
While the atmosphere at the Summerville polls was not heavy, there were still clearly concerns in the minds of these voters, namely that of taxes, government control, climate change and reproductive rights.
When asked about what they would say to nonvoters in this election, one common answer was given by the interviewees. “You cannot complain if you did not vote.” All these voters believe in the civic duty in voting and that everyone should at least cast a vote. Though it is the right of Americans not to vote, the outcome only reflects those who do vote.
“You get what you vote for,” said a 30-year-old man from Summerville.
With the next four years in the hands of Americans this election, voting may have never been more important to citizens. Many are not excited about either outcome possible, but the vote of everyone will impact the future of America and its people.