As voter turnout records were being broken in state after state, Howard University journalism students took the pulse of voters around the country. We asked people how they are feeling on this Election Day 2020, one unlike any other in the history of America. We asked them to compare their feelings now to 2008, when Barack Obama was on the ballot. Anxiety was a common thread, fueled by a sense that things could go either way. Here’s what they had to say:
Kijafa Forsythe, 42, College Park, Georgia
“This election feels a little different—maybe a little more intense. The climate in 2020 is different than the last election. I think more people are invested in this election. The stakes are much higher in this election. More people are speaking out across all age groups, and more people are doing more research as to why they are voting and who’s on the ballot—not just going by a popular vote.”“2008 was a year of optimism for African Americans. Having someone that looks like us in such a high position was inspirational. Now, this election mood is more stressful, lacks optimism, grim, and hopeless. There is a lot of uncertainty about the future right now.”
Jeff Bell, 28, Houston, Texas
Attorney Jeff Bell is 28 years old, so voting is nothing new to him, but he has felt the signs. Compared to 2008, he had this to say: “I feel like this isn’t even an equal thing anymore. Obama ran off a hope slogan and people in 2008 saw America going to this unity cause. Trump has just shown it’s still two sides against each other.”
Bell said this year may be similar to the 2000 election of George Bush versus Al Gore, where voting may be so close that the courts will have to determine the results. He voted early last Friday but he’s looking forward to seeing how things go at the polls. Bell said he wouldn’t be surprised if fights break out. He’s hopeful, but also worried.
Adrian Johnson, 27, Bronx, New York
“I voted for Obama the second time [he ran]. I didn’t vote last election, but I plan to vote today even though I don’t feel like it. Voting feels like the ‘Rona [Coronavirus]. I don’t really believe in it, but I’m still scared to not take precautions.”
Johnson said: “I had a baby panic attack earlier, I think? I wish I could take tomorrow off because I’m afraid black people lose no matter who’s elected. There has been a spike in hate crime and displays of racism since Trump was elected. If he wins again; more racism. If he loses; still more angry racism.
“When Obama was in office, I didn’t understand how personal politics were. I didn’t really understand what it meant to the world as a whole if he [Obama] would have lost the election. Understanding how big politics actually are to your safety and livelihood came with me first, checking some of my privilege, and second, understanding capitalism and the oligarchy we live in a little better.”
Thalia Tyson, 19, Douglasville, Georgia
“I’m not terrified…but I feel like anything could happen at this point. Only about 40 percent of our constituents early-voted – which is quite a lot for a normal year – but, that means that we’re expecting upwards of 2,000 people [Election Day]. We’re expecting it to be pretty hectic, hopefully nothing too crazy. Our precinct has been assigned a sheriff to protect our station, but hopefully we don’t need them [to].”
Tyson, who voted early, said: “I think in 2016 there were three types of voters: young people excited to vote for Bernie, Trump supporters, and people who supported Hillary. I remember that a lot of young people were so passionate about voting for Bernie that a lot of the votes that could have gone to Hillary went to the third-party candidate. I think this time people are really into the idea of settling for Biden, which is understandable. I think after four years under the current administration, people understand just how important the person that we choose to represent this country is and the impact it has on our everyday lives. A lot of people are ready for a change, so they’re more willing to vote for a candidate who doesn’t necessarily align with all of their values but is more aligned with what they want for the country.”
Wayan Alcorn, 24, of Berkeley, California
“I will be voting in this election because everyone is talking to me about the importance of voting. It’s crazy, even big corporations are joining in. I feel like with the last election it wasn’t so crazy.”
Alcorn didn’t vote in the last election because he said it just seemed like two evils going against each other, “but now I see just how evil that man can be.”
“It does feel different to be voting, last time it seemed that more people were okay with skipping. They were okay with whatever happened in the election and I felt like one of them. But with the surfacing of all this horrible stuff [Trump’s done] and how incompetent he is, it just feels so wrong to not vote. I don’t even want to think of the world if he’s given four more years.”
Comparing this year to 2008, he said: “I remember people being really excited, I was young and couldn’t vote but I was excited too. It felt like people were excited for the future, not fearful for the days to come.”
Alcorn voted early by mail-in ballot. “It was easy and California had a rank choice voting, which I thought was an interesting way of showing democracy. But next time I have to read up on the propositions; I didn’t even know what they were talking about.”
Felicia Lewis, of Atlanta, Georgia
Lewis, a college counselor at Kipp Atlanta Collegiate, recalled: “In 2016, my hopes were that I would witness the first woman selected as our leader of the free world. My hope this time is that I will experience the first woman of color being seated as the vice president, who happens to be a [Howard University] Bison.
“The suffocating feeling that came over the country when 45 took office will be pervasive once again if he is granted another four years in this role. The necessity to turn out doesn’t feel different, but the stakes remain extremely high.”
In 2008, Lewis said, “As an 8 -year-old third grade student, I was not cognizant of politics or the country’s climate. Twelve years later, I am a socially and politically conscious African-American woman in a country where the mood is in a volatile space….shaped by racial tension, police brutality, voter suppression, health care iniquities and a skewed vision of democracy. 45 has created this volatile space.
“I am a very proud first-time voter in a presidential election. Bundled up on the crisp morning of October 16th , I shared my voting experience with my sister and mother. We voted in person at a county library located less than a mile from our home. Portable chairs in hand, we joined the other anxious voters in the line forming. The whole experience lasted about 90 minutes. We emerged with our coveted ‘I voted’ sticker. A sense of pride and accomplished civic duty came over me and I couldn’t be more proud!”
Miranda Salazar, El Paso, Texas
First-time voter Miranda Salazar said: “I do not have any prior elections to compare this to but in my opinion this election feels revolutionary, with everything that has been going on in the country as far as coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter movement, this feels like a crucial year because Trump and Biden have opposite viewpoints and values on how they want to address the problems of the country. They do not hold the same priorities as far as what issues are most important to address and spend money on. This election is also different from any election prior because if Biden and Harris win, this will be the first time in history a woman has held the position of vice president. That is very exciting because she’s also a woman of color, which I think is an amazing thing.
“Today I feel anxious to see the results and slightly nervous because now that I am older, I see the true power of voting. Now I can fully comprehend the power that the president and people in congressional positions have over the citizens of the United States.
“I voted at the end of October, I did it in-person through an electronic ballot. I expect that Biden will win the popular vote and the electoral college will also vote for Biden. I think Trump will give some pushback and say something disrespectful, but in the end, I do believe he will leave office.”
Malika Harper, 20, Atlanta, Georgia
This 20-year-old nursing major attends Troy University in Alabama. “Of course, this election has a lot on the line for a lot of people. It will affect the country presently, but it will also affect the country for decades into the future.”
In 2008, “Obama’s election had me more excited, but my mood this year is uneasy.” Harper, who voted early a few weeks ago by mail, said, “I feel anxious, but excited. I am anxious because if Trump were to win this election, I know for a fact that I will lose people who are close to me because of healthcare, police brutality and racism.”
Makaelah Murray, age 21, of Stockton, California
For Makaelah Murray, voting feels different this time “because we’ve never had a president threaten so much of humanity. At least so vocally, with no repercussions. I can only imagine how
“I’m anxious and I’ve never had an election impact my schooling so much, even Obama’s. It could be the mental strain of being a senior during a pandemic, but the anxiety I get from checking the news is unprecedented. I log on to Twitter and my entire timeline is filled with general election information or Trump. I understand that staying informed is necessary, but there’s no way to escape this election.
“I voted at home and then dropped it off in a mailbox. I work long hours and am currently studying for the MCAT, so I wasn’t sure if I would have the time to wait in long lines to vote in person.”
Mia Watson, 21, Chandler, Arizona
Mia Watson, who put her ballot in a drop box, said this election feels different “because a lot of important stuff that will significantly affect younger people is up on this ballot. Things like health insurance, taxes, and environmental plans all things that will significantly affect my young adult life as I become a member of society. As somebody who plans to work in the health care industry, the impact that COVID-19 has had on me has made this election even more significant. My graduate program was delayed, because most labs were closed.
“I feel nervous and anxious because I feel it’s anyone’s race still. I’ve been switching between different news stations all day. I couldn’t even go to work today. I see so many people speaking about how several states could potentially go blue, like Texas, but it still makes me anxious. Either way it goes, there could be violence.”
Claire Helms, Raleigh, North Carolina
Claire Helms is a first-time presidential voter, “but I also voted in the primaries and last year in North Carolina for some district seats, city council members, and the midterms.”
“It feels different because I haven’t let myself feel hopeful until today with the possibility of electing Joe Biden. I have been expecting the worst but am trying to keep my head above water and listening to reliable sources.”
“I was a little too young to understand in 2008, I was in second grade, but I remember being very excited about Obama. Many kids in my circle had parents voting for Romney. I remember that I was at peace with the election; there wasn’t as much friction or chaos.
This year, “I voted early in Chapel Hill, in person and it was very friendly and nice. Someone there was talking about the number of Democrats there and speculated voter suppression, which makes me wary about what controversy and contention will come out of today.”
Jasmin Tarver, 22, Chicago, Illinois
“I was skeptical voting this time around due to all the drama that’s been happening with the election. I’ve been hearing about voting polls being tampered with, mail being held up to stop voting, and all kinds of other schemes to make sure every vote isn’t counted. Although my trust in the voting process in America hasn’t always been the highest, this year it has definitely dropped to an all-time low.”
“I can also see the difference among the adults in my life that have voted before. This time around there, is more of an urgency to get people to vote and make sure everyone’s voices are heard. I think all of that has to do with all the events that have taken place this year: Covid-19, the riots, the Black Lives Matter Movement, unemployment and economic issues, and the behavior of this year’s candidates. I don’t believe that anyone has been satisfied with how things have been going and we all want to see change.”
“My mood today is definitely anxious. I want this election and year to come to an end. In 2008, I was only 10. All I remember is a lot more joy seemed to be in the air than in today’s election. It’s definitely reminiscent of the 2016 election where everyone seemed to be on edge the entire day.
“I went to a voting station at a nearby elementary school and filled in the bubbles the old fashioned way. I felt like that was the most trustworthy way of getting my vote out there. They still might throw it away or find a way not to count it but at least I know I put it directly into someone’s hands and not just a mailbox.”
Chandler Pacheco, 18, Pearland, Texas
As election night approaches, she has begun to feel “uneasy” and social media has played a big role in that. Her social media feeds are showing “boarded-up hotels and businesses” in major cities like Houston, which is Pearland’s neighbor, in anticipation of riots and related outbursts.
However, she does not blame the social media cites for the rise in her anxiety. “This election has been one of the craziest elections in a long time.” With two strong, very different candidates in this race, the “clashing opinions” are known to “ruin relationships” between people. These factors and the looming idea of backlash after the election has created a heightened sense of angst for Pacheco.
When casting her first ballot, she found the experience to be very straightforward. She chose to vote at her nearby community center where she had no wait time and easy-to-follow directions from the volunteers at the center. “It was a really quick process and I actually liked it.”
Patricia Mark, 73, Gotha, Florida
Patricia Mark has been voting for 30 years. She says, “Voting feels different this time around because I have never seen a president directly interfere with the election and suppress votes. It feels like my rights are being taken away right before my eyes. I am praying for a fair election and leadership that cares.”
In 2008, I threw a huge party to celebrate Barack being on the ballot. I knew he was the right person for the job. People were going out to vote in mass numbers to vote Barack in office. Now, people are voting in mass numbers to vote the current president out of office. It’s pretty ironic.”
“I voted, dropped off my ballot on the first day of early voting. I was worried that there would be complications, so I turned in my vote as soon as possible.”
Erhizee Armah, 61, Centreville, Virginia
Erhizee Armah has voted in the last four presidential elections. “Voting in the 2020 presidential election feels a lot different this time around because it feels like a whole lot more is at stake.”
Compared to 2008, it feels like he is voting as if his life and his children’s lives depend on this election, he said, especially with the covid-19 pandemic and the heightened racism in 2020. Armah voted early by mail to avoid any risks of catching the covid-19 virus at the polls.
Carol Miller, 59, Marrero, Louisiana
Carol Miller believes that this time around, the presidential election not only feels different because of the current state of the country, but also because of extenuating circumstances specific to her parish. She spoke about Donald Trump’s divisiveness, which she believes is the result of his irresponsibility and lack of sympathy. However, what makes this election especially different for Miller is the lingering effects of Hurricane Zeta that are still being felt in the area. Many people have yet to have their power restored, including a number of polling stations. She explained, “I think a lot people will be discouraged from voting due to the extreme loss they have recently experienced, making voting a second priority for many.”
In comparison to the country’s mood when President Obama was first elected, Miller thinks that a majority of the country currently feels frustrated, angered and humiliated. Many people, including herself, were extremely proud during Obama’s term, she said, because the country had “a president who was smart and had the people’s best interest at heart.” To now have a person in office who does not show sympathy for the people is what she calls a “humiliation.”
Miller and her husband took their ballots to the voter’s administration office on October 6th. With less than a day before the election, she was skeptical about the ballots getting counted properly due to the increased potential for technological glitches in her area as result of the hurricane.
Moriah Coles, 21, Seffner, Florida
She currently lives around several of Donald Trump’s supporters and some White nationalists and fears their behavior will get worse if he loses. “I would be going to Orlando or to Lakeland, and they’ll be all up in the road—I guess rallying or whatever. And if you try to go into their land and you don’t have a flag, they’ll like bombard you. God knows what would happen if he loses.”
Coles did extensive research on all candidates to guide who she would select when voting on Election Day. Her identity as a Black woman and educator could have guided her choice. Another influence was her losing two family members to COVID-19. On President Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic, Coles says, “I think he doesn’t think with his heart. A lot of people lost family members and themselves because of it.” She believes that the time has come for someone with emotional intelligence to assume the presidency.
Coles grew up going to the polls with her parents and was ecstatic about the day that she would get to vote herself. She considers voting to be a form of civic engagement and expression that everyone should partake in. She says, “I like knowing that my opinion counts to something.”
Rheutelia Jordan, Washington, D.C.,
Rheutelia Jordan, an Uptown resident of 40+ years, says, “I kept up with politics ever since my husband was alive. We always politically spoke about different issues and it was very important in my household.”
2020 feels different, she says.
“Absolutely, 2020 is a new century. In 2008, voting was very wonderful to see a black president being nominated for the first time. People came from all over the world to see Obama become the first black president. It was an exciting time for me. In contrast to now, this election’s main concern is about the economy and health. People are concerned about their lives and I believe we are a divided nation right now. We are divided as a race. We are divided by color. We are divided as a nation. If this current president gets elected again, there will be major problems.
Back in 2008, “I was excited, in contrast to now, I’m just worried.”
“I voted with an early mail-in ballot. I took it upon myself to vote that way. I hope Joe Biden wins. This election can go either way. All this voting that we are doing is fine, but what counts is the electoral votes.”
Contributors: Alyssa Mark, Oseremen Ibadin, Jaidah Sizer, Arianna Morgan, Taylor Kimbrough, Zian Lane, Shanell Holback, Hannah Ficklin, Darreonna Davis, Chynna Anthony, Lindday Calvin, Anjaleah Domino, JoyLynn Keeton, Monet Khanyahl, Brielle Smith, Noah Thierry and Kennedy Lewis.