Early voting began Wednesday in Shelby County for a national, and state, election that may be the most consequential in modern history, as President Donald Trump fights for a second term while former vice-president Joe Biden rises in the polls.
Citizens are passionate, tired, resolute, angry, divided — and eager to vote early, by mail, or in person on Nov. 3.
MLK50: Justice Through Journalism surveyed readers about the election, why it is important to them, and how they planned to enter their votes. (See Shelby County’s early voting sites and hours here.)
Out of 26 responses, 25 will vote early and one by mail. Many said they didn’t trust the mail, and are alarmed by how quickly the prior administration’s message of “Hope and Change” evolved into “Make America Great Again.”
The coronavirus pandemic has roiled the U.S. for more than half of 2020, killing 216,000 people. Unjustified police killings of Black people, including the horrific suffocation of George Floyd captured on video, opened eyes and hearts — propelling multitudes of new protesters into the streets.
Yes: protests during a pandemic, exacerbated by a president who is mining both for votes. He’s discouraged wearing of masks to fight the virus and continues to hold massive campaign rallies. He’s called on supporters to police the polls; courted white supremacists, crippled the U.S. Postal Service to thwart mail-in balloting; and began pushing for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement before she was buried last month.
We talked to four Shelby County residents – all plan to vote early, and with conviction.
Tabitha McGuire will cast her vote early, and has informed followers on Twitter and Instagram she will provide rides for others.
Then on Election Day, the 46-year-old stay-at-home mom will show up at a polling site to work.
She sees her poll work as civic duty; her vote as part of a call to arms to help turn around a country headed for disaster.
“Donald Trump has destroyed our relationships with our allies. He’s destroyed our reputation in the international community,” said McGuire of East Memphis. “He has made us less safe at home and abroad. He’s given rise and license to white supremacists.
“He’s the sludge in ‘Ghostbusters’ running under the streets making folks crazy. Over (215,000) Americans have died from this pandemic and this man has spent the majority of his time playing golf and robbing the coffers.”
McGuire doesn’t know where she’ll be sent to help on Nov. 3, and it doesn’t matter. She signed up on the Shelby County Election Commission website because she thought the pandemic would keep many of the older poll workers away.
She won’t let anything keep her from voting. She will be prepared, and undaunted by a long line.
“I’ll wait,” she said. “I’ll have a chair and snacks.”
Lindsey Castle Mashburn
Lindsey Castle Mashburn will approach her polling place on Saturday with concern for her health — and safety.
Why? “I think slightly out of ill-founded paranoia. But I wear my mask religiously.”
The liberal Democrat is concerned about coronavirus, but also has another worry — voter intimidation. The president has asked his supporters, some of them armed militia members, to show up as poll watchers.
“I’m anxious that there will be physical animosity from the right at polling stations and I’m nervous for other voters being intimidated,” said the 29-year-old secretary who lives Downtown.
Her motivation: “The incumbent is a threat to America and voting is part of my responsibility to my community and country,” Mashburn said.
She is willing to stand in line for hours and risk her health and safety — though she knows that the winners-take-all Electoral College system in Tennessee makes her vote for president moot.
“I always do (have that fear) because I vote Democratic/liberal in a red state, and I believe that the Electoral College is out of date and unequipped to benefit today’s society.
“But if we listen to that fear then nothing will ever change.”
Mike Brown of Germantown will vote early and with pride.
“It is the method that I have always chosen and I will continue. I believe in the accuracy of our mail-in system, however, I will leave that to those who need to vote by mail, such as our military, our elderly, and those at high risk of contracting COVID.
“I have the ability to vote in person, and so I will use that option.”
Brown, who works in IT for a charter school, will go as part of a group “to make sure that everyone is safe and protected. We are living in a time of voter suppression that I read about in our history.
“With the racist fervor blatantly discussed in today’s discourse harkening back to the voter intimidation of the past, I am a bit concerned about security at polling stations. I vote in a predominantly white community as a black man. I have obvious fears.”
Fears aside, he believes he has a sacred obligation to vote.
“If our ancestors have fought and lost their lives to bring us to this point, our generation and every generation after must do their part to move us closer towards the freedom our ancestors sought.”
Cherryl Pigues Crite
While coronavirus is sweeping the country, Cherryl Pigues Crite wants the country to do some sweeping at the White House on Nov. 3.
“I’m voting because I want our community to know that we have options and our voice is crucial,” said Crite, founder of SistaGirl, which she describes as a “movement to support women who do the work in the community.”
Voting early together has been a tradition for Crite, 64, and her 94-year-old-aunt. Part of that tradition will end this year because of COVID-19. Family members will help her aunt vote by mail, while Crite again will vote early.
Predictions of long lines don’t bother her.
“I’ll take my chair, water and book (just in case) and just scoot along. This election is too crucial to let standing in long lines be an issue.”
Know before you go
See Shelby County’s early voting sites and hours here
Enter the address where you are registered to vote below and see an interactive sample ballot.
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.