This year, Americans have seen up close the ways in which the misuse of power can hurt people—the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is perhaps the clearest example of this, but police killings of unarmed Black Americans, discrimination against transgender Americans, and numerous other examples have come to define our era.
So how do average Americans stand up to these wrongs? They vote. And this year, an unprecedented number of Americans are taking a stand. They’re voting early in hours-long lines to ensure their voices are heard. They’re mailing their ballots in droves. They’re encouraging others to do the same.
That’s what real power looks like.
This election season, COURIER is asking people across the country to share why they’re going to the polls this year, and to shed light on what those experiences look like. By elevating these stories, we hope to remind readers of what it’s like to harness one of the few true superpowers we have as Americans: our voices.
Bookmark this page so you can return often for a dose of inspiration and a closer look at how voters are navigating this historic election—from why they’re voting to what casting a ballot looks like in 2020. We could all use an opportunity to celebrate what connects us as Americans.
November 3, 2020 // 1:30 PM EDT
Whitney Anne Adams is a costume designer who saw her career turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. After the film she was working on shut down earlier this year, she managed to survive financially on credit cards and the $600 weekly unemployment boost approved by Congress in March. But that went away at the end of July, and Adams still finds herself struggling.
More than anything, Adams said she’s furious that Congress and the Trump administration have yet to finalize a new coronavirus relief bill that would offer direct help to millions of people like her.
“I’ve been waiting since November 9th, 2016 to cast my ballot in this election,” she told COURIER Tuesday. “I remember the pit in my stomach of dread of what would happen over the coming four years, and I have to say that it has been much worse than what I had pictured even then.
“The list of failings of this presidency is a mile long, but none worse in my mind than the mishandling of this pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of Americans dead, millions more unemployed and slipping into poverty. America needs a president who will actually take action with empathy and resolve.”
Adams said she was “so happy” to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris via absentee, and checked last week to ensure her ballot had been counted.
“I just hope that the election is a blow-out so there is no question over who won, and if that’s not in the cards, then I really hope that every valid vote is counted in whatever time it takes,” she said. “I’m willing to wait for a fair election count. I have been waiting for four years for this, so I can wait a little longer if it means I can have hope in this country again.”
November 3, 2020 // 12:30 PM EDT
Sandy Zull has made a point of voting in every election, almost always in person.
But this year, the 75-year-old Detroiter filled out her ballot at home and took it down the street to a dropbox. Zull told COURIER that she knew she would be voting at home this year because of the pandemic and also out of concern that her ballot wouldn’t arrive on time if she sent it via mail.
“I didn’t want to go [to a crowded polling station] because we’ve been cautious and I didn’t trust the mail service too much with the delays that have been happening. So, I was grateful to have a dropbox very near my house,” she said.
Zull explained that in the past, she has braved the Detroit weather to stand in line and exercise her right to vote. For example, she said, she stood in line for more than two hours to vote for Barack Obama.
“It was a joy because I was with people who were seeing a dream come true and it was just pure joy,” Zull said. “[But] it’s different this year—it’s never felt so urgent before. It was always important, it mattered, I knew I had options. But the divisiveness of the country right now is a great heartache.”
In recent years, she has noticed a deepening polarization that worries her.
“There’s a wider division over issues right now than any time in my long life,” she said. “We are a democracy, and we have to express our voice and be a part of it. I care about racial equality, I care very much about education, and I see our country drifting toward something that I do not recognize.”
Things like health care, racial equity, and the fight for justice are all on the line this year, Zull continued. She noted that people often vote not only for themselves but also on issues and policies that affect others.
“I realize that I’m voting for those marginalized people who cannot be part of the process,” she said.
— Elle Meyers
October 28, 2020 // 3:30 PM EDT
Blanca Gamez has lived in the United States since she was seven months old. As part of a mixed status family, she has relied on her sister, and for the first time this year her father, to vote on her behalf.
Each member of the Gamez family, who live in Nevada, has a different citizenship status: Her younger sister was born in the US, and her father was naturalized recently after many years with a work permit. Gamez and her mother are undocumented, though Gamez is legally allowed to live and work in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. She cannot, however, participate in the electoral process.
“I’m in this weird limbo phase because of DACA,” Gamez, 30, told COURIER. “So for the past few years, my sister has been the only voter in the family—2010 was actually her first election.”
For years, the future of DACA has been unclear. Since taking office, President Donald Trump has worked to restrict and ultimately end the program that allows people who arrived in the United States as children to avoid the looming threat of deportation.
As a staffer with the ACLU, part of Gamez’s work involves getting people out to the polls to ensure their voices are heard. “If I were eligible to vote, I would be out there all dressed up,” she said.
Until the federal government creates a pathway for citizenship to give Gamez that opportunity, she relies on her family to vote on her behalf. Every time her sister Sandra goes to the polls, she brings her back a sticker.
It’s Gamez’s one request. “I like collecting them.”
Voting isn’t just about the individual casting the ballot, she explained. Rather, it’s about what you can do to better the community at large.
“Your impact does have greater [sway] and does create greater change. It trickles down to folks, even those who are not eligible to vote. Your vote can determine whether or not policies change, whether or not I stay in this country, the only country I’ve called home all these years, your vote can make that difference.”
Last week, Gamez’s father voted for the first time ever. Their family accompanied him to the voting location, and greeted him with cheers when he exited the building.
He was proudly holding an “I Voted” sticker.
— Elle Meyers
October 26, 2020 // 2:05 PM EDT
WATCH: COURIER Newsroom Editor Meghan McCarthy Votes Early in Alexandria, Va.
October 19, 2020 // 2:10 PM EDT
Billy Ball: He Brought His 6-Year-Old With Him to Vote Early in North Carolina
Billy Ball is the managing editor of Cardinal & Pine, COURIER’s North Carolina-focused news site. When polls opened last week for early voting, he and his partner made a point to cast their ballots in person with their six-year-old daughter in tow.
As Ball filled out his bubble ballot—his daughter bopping excitedly back and forth between his and his partner’s booths—he thought about how state election officials had been thoughtful about safety precautions. “The booths were spaced sufficiently,” he wrote. “A poll worker greeted us at the door with a bottle of hand sanitizer and we could grab a pen out of a waiting shoebox. We got to keep the pen because of the coronavirus.”
On the way out, his daughter got a sticker. “I voted, no bull,” it read, a nod to Durham’s horned mascot. She wore it proudly.
OCTOBER 15, 2020 // 2:09 PM EDT
Connie Chang: Her Children’s Future Weighs Heavily on Her
Growing up, Connie Chang’s immigrant family never talked about politics at the dinner table. Instead, her parents were more concerned about the virtues of working hard in order to achieve the so-called “American dream.”
Now that she’s got her own family, Chang and her husband—a European citizen from Italy—are concerned about their children’s future. Not only do they have active-shooter drills at their school, but the family lives in California, where fire is just another season.
Knowing that her husband is ineligible to vote, Chang sees it as her duty to cast her ballot this November for her family.
OCTOBER 7, 2020 // 1:22 PM EDT
Keisha Shields: She’s Honoring Her Father, Who Died From Cancer Last Year
In 2019, Keisha Shields’ father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The Georgia man subsequently died from his battle, but not before sharing his concerns with his daughter about the state of the country.
What was most concerning for him, Shields recalled, is the devastation the Trump administration has caused people like him by attacking access to health care. Shields promised to honor his memory by casting her vote this November for her father.
SEPTEMBER 22, 2020 // 8:00 AM EDT
Carolina Caltzoncint-Herrera: Her Undocumented Parents Can’t Vote, So She Will
Carolina Caltzoncint-Herrera is a community college student in Charlotte, North Carolina. When the whistleblower report about the horrifying conditions at a Georgia ICE detention center came out in September, the first-generation American was reminded of how easily a person’s freedom can be taken away—especially under the current administration. She thought about her parents, who came to the United States from Mexico when her mother was pregnant with her.
This month, Caltzoncint-Herrera sent her ballot in via mail. Her goal is to elect officials who believe, like her, that the rights of people from all backgrounds matter.
SEPTEMBER 1, 2020 // 3:54 PM EDT
Espy Thomas: Going to the Polls With Pride For Her Ancestors
Espy Thomas is a native Detroiter. She plans to vote—as she does every election—for her ancestors. That includes her grandfather, a former steel mill worker. “I’m very strongly connected to my ancestors; every last one of them. I vote for all of them,” she said. Her vote, she added, is an acknowledgement of the sacrifices those before her have made.