What Voters Across America Are Saying About the 2020 Election

Franklin, Kentucky

Despite the trucks parked around the town bearing candidates’ names in the town square in Franklin, Kentucky, unity was top of mind for early voters on Oct. 30. While waiting in relatively short lines, masked voters and their families spoke to PEOPLE about their hopes and expectations for 2021 — and whether the COVID-19 pandemic and the country’s current social unrest contributed to their votes.

Denver Bell (top, right), a “60+,” retired teacher and ball coach, who voted a few days prior but was in the town square running other errands, said he voted early because of both the virus and to avoid lines. “Even though it’s a small town, sometimes the lines can get a little long,” Bell said. 

Bell, who had COVID during the summer, did not reveal who he voted for, but said that “truth” was important to him as a voter. “I couldn’t be a school teacher if I lied to my students and told them untrue things, and that means a lot to me,” Bell said.

Devin Nealy, 30, (top, left) who voted along with his wife Kellie, 27, also did not say who he was voting for, but said they were both affected financially by the pandemic. 

“When we filed for unemployment, [my wife] was off for 14 days and I was off for 28 days and when we filed for unemployment they denied it and we’re trying to fight that right now,” explained David. “He lost a month of pay and I lost two weeks pay,” Kellie added.

The couple added that local elections are also top of mind. 

“I like to see how [local candidates] impact us with helping out, with bringing other companies to help with the revenue, all the events that go on and also how they help out with the local law enforcement and first aid and first responders, so that’s one thing I look at when voting,” David explained.

“Having a daughter, it hit a little more home than it would have before having her.”

For social worker Grant Johnson, 31, (below, right) his newborn daughter played a part in his vote. “I just had a daughter, 6 months old, born in April and some of the things Trump said about women or stuff like that didn’t really sit well with me,” Johnson said. “Especially having a daughter it hit a little more home then it would have before having her.” 

Johnson added that he thinks Joe Biden will move Franklin “forward” while Trump is “trying to go backwards.” 

“Franklin is a factory town and I want to see more diverse job opportunities,” explained Johnson. “I felt very narrowed in, I thought my life was going to be working at a factory and that didn’t really fit me, and I just like to see places like Franklin, Kentucky have more options then just factory work.”

Mandy Thurman, 40, (above, left) a registered nurse and mother of five, also voted with her children in mind.

Historically, I have voted Republican and I am a registered Republican. I did vote Democratic Party and voted for Biden this year,” Thurman said. 

“Honestly what made me decide to choose to vote for Biden was everything that’s going on in our world right now,” Thurman said. “I am the mother of a 5-year-old Black son and the way I felt like Trump has led us as a nation, I felt like it was very necessary for me to try to change that we as a nation are headed right now.”


Chicago, Illinois

In and around Chicago, voters lined up early and broke state records as they cast their votes in the 2020 election.

Illinois’ voter turnout in 2020 has about doubled since 2016, with more than 3.5 million votes cast even before Tuesday’s election deadline.

Voters waiting in line told PEOPLE this election was worth the troubles, despite the cold weather and long waits at some polling places in and around Midwest’s largest city. 

“I want to make sure that my vote doesn’t just represent me, but represents all of us.”

“Oh trust me, as a Chicagoan, it’s been so much worse,” Renee Schulz, 27, (above, center) said, laughing, last Thursday, before explaining why she braved 30-degree temperatures for roughly an hour in line. “As a woman, there’s so many more things that are being stacked against the deck for me. I want to make sure that my vote doesn’t just represent me, but represents all of us.”

In the suburb of Oak Lawn, about 17 miles south of the city, 24-year-old Susana Meza (above, left) said the same issue brought her out to vote—though, she just came to personally make sure her mail-in ballot arrived safely.

“With everything going on, I prefer not to take the risk of maybe not being counted,” Meza said from behind a mask, hand sanitizer packed in her pocket. “I decided to just come in and be as safe as I can.”

Holly Lamantia, (above, right) a 45-year-old Chicago area nurse, told PEOPLE the pandemic is what was on her mind as she readied herself to vote against Donald Trump’s re-election.

“I understand it’s a virus, it runs rampant, and there’s only so many measures you can do, but I wish we had a little bit more stronger leadership,” Lamantia said. “A little bit more positive, not so gruff all the time.”


Norwich, New York

On Friday afternoon, under a cold, grey sky, 13 people lined up outside the Chenango County Office Building in Norwich, N.Y. to cast their vote early. With masks on and standing at a distance from each other, upstate New Yorkers shared concerns about the state of the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic and their frustration over the “childish behavior” of both parties — with some voters taking verbal swipes at President Donald Trump. 

“I'm hoping to get the treasonous bastard out of office,” said Arthur Sisco, a 50-year-old claims supervisor, who voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

“He is for the rich only, and the little people are getting messed over by him,” he continued. “Healthcare has gone down. Our wages have gone down. The work around here we can do has gone down. He's just not for the little person.”

Sisco adds that one of his main concerns with the Trump administration is its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“They're in denial of it. I've had two relatives and my dentist die of COVID,” he said. “So, I've put two people on the ground because of it. It's real, and it's happening. And denying it's not right.” 

Nolleen Barber (above left), a 23-year old administrative clerk at Hospice and Palliative Care of Chenango County, cast her ballot for the first time ever. While she declined to share her views about the presidential candidates, she said she was inspired to go to the polls because of her coworkers. 

“They're very passionate women,” Barber said, “and it's driven me to come out and make my voice heard, too.”

While Costantino Oliviero didn’t vote for President Trump in the 2016 election, he’s voting for him this year. “I'm sticking with who's in office,” the 67-year-old retiree said. “Because he stands up for everybody and he's doing his best. It's a hard job … And I feel that he's been doing something for the country… I think he's a great president.” 

Terri Smith, a longtime voter and Democrat, came out to vote with her nephew, Christopher Gaff (above, right). While Smith hopes to help evict President Trump from the White House, she’s also concerned about other pressing issues. 

“We definitely need to get rid of the electoral college,” she said. “Healthcare is a huge issue. People saving and being able to buy homes and cars. Equal rights. What's going on in this country is a shame — it's just awful.” 

Smith said she’s dismayed by how the election has played out, and said she's seen a lot more "hatred" in this election than in 2016; Gaff agreed.

“The childish behavior, name calling, insults. All that is just disgusting,” she said. “That is no way for someone to represent our country.”

Smith said she’s seen a lot more “hatred” in this election than in 2016. Her nephew agreed. 

Chris Kemnah (above) has also been unsettled by the vitriol he’s witnessed during the 2020 election.

“Well, honestly, it feels like it never stopped from 2016 until now,” the certified organic dairy farmer, 44, said of Trump’s presidential campaign. “[For the first debate,] I wished there was a mute button.”

Kemnah didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 and plans on voting for Biden this year. He said he’s voting for Biden, not because of the former vice president specifically, “but to maybe stop the everyday lies.” 

Kemnah, who was waiting in line with his wife Samantha, explained that their business hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic. But life has changed for their four children, who are still in school.  

“What are we going to do for the young people? What kind of future will they have?”

“We have to figure things out. We have to figure out how we're going to take care of this debt, global climate change,” he said. “What are we going to do for the young people? We have four kids ourselves… What kind of future will they have related to all of that stuff?” 


Livermore, California

Home of “The World’s Fastest Rodeo,” the northern California town of Livermore, California is composed of ranchers, scientists, and now Silicon Valley workers who, pre-COVID, boarded buses taking them to work. Livermore was short on early voter turnout on Nov. 2 — many residents opted for mail-in ballots, which could be dropped off via drive-thru — but those who did show up to vote reflected the town’s diversity. 

Angela Adams, a realtor who declined to give her age but has been voting since 1966 (“just add it up” she laughed) stressed that she thinks “it is important to vote in every election. We have that privilege, we have the freedom and we have the responsibility.” When asked about this year’s election in particular, Adams also said that she’s grateful “that more people are taking an interest in their country.”

Joanne Bezis, a retired elementary school teacher, said that voting is always important, but more than ever this year because “I want to see Trump not have another term in office.”

Bezis also addressed California’s many propositions on the ballot. “There were also a lot of propositions that I felt I had to respond to. We have rentals so we already have statewide rental control, so I didn’t want to see more measures of rent control to go on top of that,” she explained. 

Aaron, 26, said taxes were the most important issue for him in this election. “I just want more money in my pocket. As a young person, that’s important to me,” he said.


Jackson, Wyoming

People of all ages — born in all parts of the country — gathered on Oct. 30 to vote early in the Wyoming city. And although the state is historically red, a diverse range of issues were top of mind for the voters PEOPLE spoke to.

“What wasn’t important [to me]? My rights, my kids, the environment,” Julie Guttormson, 45, (below, left) a fitness studio owner and trainer, said, when asked what contributed to her vote this year. 

When it comes to talking politics with her kids, Guttormson says, “They ask, they care, they know. We are not a Trump family, but he is our president and early on we did our best to not voice how we felt, but they knew; they listen, they hear.” She adds that her daughter is especially engaged. “She’s reading about [late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg]—they're so far ahead of where I was at 11. It is really amazing. She is understanding a bit about what she did for women and that is pretty powerful.”

Guttormson said healthcare is another key issue on the ballot for her family. “We have good insurance, but even good insurance comes with a high price tag these days. When I had my stroke 15 years ago, it wasn’t that bad. I can’t imagine what it would be now.”

Caroline Willis, 25, (above, right) a wilderness therapy field guide, drove to Jackson from her home in Utah to vote in her former home state. 

I’ve had friends affected by COVID that were living in areas that didn’t take policies as seriously as they could have because they were taking orders from President Trump,” Willis explained, adding that [natural land] preservation also contributed to her decision. “Being out west I feel so privileged to take advantage of all the public lands. I think that the heritage of those lands is important and should be respected, and I feel there are quite a few people running in Wyoming that stand for that heritage and that want to bring that to importance and also to keep those lands protected for all citizens' use.”

Isaiah Smith Owens, 24, who works at Smith’s/Kroger grocery, was motivated to vote for the first time “to make a change for the future generation.”

“I think that as young people we have to focus on the environment and we have to focus on being able to educate ourselves so that we go a lot farther as a country,” Owens said, adding that increased “basic wages” are a core issue for him.

“I have to do my part as young person to progress this country.”

And though he’s from a historically red state (Alabama), and now living in another, Owens wants his voice to be heard. “I think that either way, I have to do my part as a young person to progress this country. No matter where I’m at in the country, I’m always going to go out to make it happen,” he explained.

Anita Isom, 87, who has voted Democratic “forever,” criticized President Trump’s COVID response — and said she felt a Biden win would help the country bounce back.

“It can’t help but change [if Biden is elected] because I think, at least I hope, that Biden would … not throw out statements that are false,” said Isom. “When you listen to the news, there will be a statement from Trump saying that the doctors are lying. [Or that] People aren’t dying … [or] We’ve got everything handled."


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