Bret Thompson watches voting results during an election night watch party at the Biden-November 3, 2020. Photo by Brandon Dill for MLK50.

Hopes for a Biden-Harris administration dimmed and the Democrats’ path to the White House looked murkier as several battleground states were still too close to call late Tuesday.

The prospect of another four years of a bombastic president who is also racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and a liar was terrifying for many voters in the reliably blue Shelby County, one of only three counties statewide that went for Hillary Clinton four years ago.

“I’m sad and sick and scared,” said Laura Terry, a 51-year-old office manager.

“I just feel like this is a repeat from 2016. I feel like I don’t know my country again. I feel there’s not a lot of goodness out there anymore and I feel alone.”

Autumn Ayers, 9, watches voting results with her mother Candi Ayers (right) and godmother Candice Jones during an election night watch party. Photo by Brandon Dill for MLK50

That the coronavirus pandemic, which Trump has consistently downplayed even as a record number of cases were reported in the election’s last days, didn’t turn voters off galls Terry.

“He’s been a horrible, horrible, brutish man and it doesn’t matter…  I mean it’s still a tight race. It’s still up in the air. I don’t get it.”

Venita Doggett, a fundraiser for the University of Memphis, was just as despondent.

Related: A win for Harris, a loss for Bradshaw — plus more from the polls on Election Day

Surely, she thought, the pandemic’s death toll and Trump’s courting of white supremacists would lead to an awakening among fellow Americans.

All that, she thought, and “maybe some people would actually say, ‘You know what, this probably isn’t a good look for the United States of America. We’ve been the laughing stock for long enough.’

“And so I’m really angry at myself for having a little bit of hope, quite honestly,” Doggett said.

There was a spot of good news locally: Torrey Harris, a Black millennial, handily beat incumbent Rep. John Deberry, an ousted Democrat who ran as an independent, to represent the Tennessee House of Representatives in Dist. 90.

Torrey Harris attends his victory party after defeating incumbent Rep. John Deberry to represent the Tennessee House of Representatives in Dist. 90. Photo by Hannah Grabenstein for MLK50

And to be sure, the race is not over:  As in all presidential elections in recent history, all votes will not be counted on Election Day. The delay does not portend malice, regardless of what Trump contends. Any White House winner has always been a projection, typically reported by the Associated Press.

The unchecked spread of the coronavirus pandemic led to record early voting turnout and nearly 64 million mail-in ballots. Counting these takes time; the country will not know the results for days, perhaps weeks as absentee and mail-in ballots are tallied in battleground states; in North Carolina, postmarked ballots can arrive by Nov. 12.

Related: Mailing last-minute ballots prompts confusion, conflicting information at Bartlett post office

And so the seeds of anxiety planted Nov. 8, 2016 will grow, especially for immigrants, women, people of color, workers and other populations that Trump administration policies have made more vulnerable. 

Uncertainty looms

At Whitehaven Community Center early Tuesday, Shonda Jecela’s worries about long lines were unwarranted; there was no wait. But another of the 33-year-old voter’s concerns  –  When would the winner of the presidential race be announced?  – was justified.

She would watch the election returns. “I’m glad it’s ending,” she said. “I’m just waiting to see what happens.”

The historic nature of Tuesday’s election wasn’t lost on Shelby County voters, even though they cast their ballots in a red state where all 11 electoral college votes were called for Trump. 

Election Day at the polls was muted, maybe because so many turned out for early voting, mused Rev. Earle Fisher, an organizer for #UPTheVote901 at Christ Missionary Baptist Church Tuesday afternoon.

Montrail Mitchell, 7, plays with balloons while his mother, Whitney, was working outside of Christ Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday afternoon during the Election Day Block Party, sponsored by #UPTheVote901. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

Still, the election laid bare fault lines between those who are progressive and those who are conservative, particularly when conservatism takes a turn toward the alt-right.

Voting at Pursuit of God Church in Frayser, Cairo Tatum, 25, said political divisions have affected a lot of his personal relationships.

“A few of my friends are further radicalizing, on the right. And it makes it hard to maintain those friendships,” Tatum said. “And so I had to let really close people go.”

Tatum, who is Black, said he bonded with his first friend, who is Cambodian, in high school over board games.

“He was just a nerd who brought a chess board to school,” said Tatum. “We used to hang out non stop.”

But when they got to college, Tatum said his friend became more extreme in his conservative and religious views and the two had far opposite views on gay marriage and Black Lives Matter.

“I have friends in the LGBTQ plus community and I don’t want to have to introduce [him as], this is my friend who’s still kind of filled with hate about everything that you are as a person,” Tatum said.

However, Tatum said he would have wanted to remain friends if his friend’s politics weren’t so “hateful.”

“No one ever wants to let people go.”

Mixed results in state races

Suburbs excepted, the ballot was slim in Shelby County – one state Senate race and eight state House races were uncontested. Progressives were watching three contests: Harris’ bid for the Tennessee House of Representatives in Dist. 90, Gabby Salinas’ run for the House Dist. 97 seat, and the Democrats’ pick for U.S. Senate, Marquita Bradshaw.

MEMPHIS, TN – November 3, 2020: Marquita Bradshaw delivers a speech where she refused to concede the election night party for Marquita Bradshaw’s U.S. Senate campaign at the DoubleTree Hotel on Tuesday night, November 3, 2020. Andrea Morales for MLK50

Around 9:30 p.m., Salinas said at her watch party that her team was still watching the vote returns.

“We may not know the answer today. We have to make sure every single vote is counted,” she said.

By 11 p.m., with 15 out of 15 precincts reporting, Republican John b Gillespie had 51.6% of the vote and Salinas 48.4%, appearing that Democractic candidate Gabby Salinas was headed to defeat.

Salinas, a former researcher at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, ran for state Senate in 2018 and lost in a close race.

She returned this election as the Democratic Party’s favorite candidate, earning nearly double the primary votes as her closest challenge. 

Tennessee State House candidate Gabby Salinas (left) and her twin brother, Alejandro Salinas, wait during an election night watch party at the Starlight Event Center in Memphis. Candidate Salinas said, “This election is bigger than any one candidate. It’s about our values. Regardless of the outcome we’re going to continue to fight for our community.” Photo by Brandon Dill for MLK50.

At Harris’ victory party at a Downtown Carribean restaurant, a few dozen supporters gathered to celebrate. He thanked God, his team, his friends and the support of his family. 

Wearing a jacket emblazoned with Black Lives Matters and the names of Black people killed by police and others, he acknowledged his unsuccessful 2018 run, saying “we did lose with a short margin, but we showed that hard work and determination and consistency is what people want to see.”

Harris, 29, said he looked forward to serving a wide constituency.

“For all the parts of Memphis, District 90, the state of Tennessee – I hope to be able to be someone they can look to as a real representative. Somebody who will listen, empower and serve not just some but all of the people and Tennesseeans in this entire state. We’ve come a long way. It’s been a very challenging race,” he said.

Bradshaw’s attempt to be the state’s first Black senator fell short; not long after the polls closed at 7 p.m., with just 3% of precincts reporting, the Associated Press called the race for Republican Bill Hagerty. 

“This is not a concession speech,” Bradshaw said at a Downtown hotel. “We cannot call this race. Hagerty is not my U.S. Senator. We will count every last vote.”

A commitment to democracy

Earlier Tuesday, at Mt. Nebo Baptist Church on Vance, Octictia Davis, 40, and Willie Mitchell, 54, voted largely because it was sunny and warm. 

They walked about four blocks, Davis said, because their transportation, a van that fits Mitchell’s wheelchair, “was kind of down. And I know how important it is to him so we walked.” 

Davis is Mitchell’s caretaker, and they planned on getting hot wings and enjoying the sun after casting their ballots.

Related: The best of times – or the worst of times: What changes for you under a Trump or Biden administration?

Voting is important to Mitchell, because “it means being able to have a say,” he said.

“This is what we do,” Davis said. “We vote.”

Sixty-two-year-old retired veteran Vincent Cole always votes, he said, and though he doesn’t always vote for Democrats, he cast his ballot this year for former Vice President Joe Biden. He’s worried that President Trump is casting doubt on the validity of the election, a theory he rejects.

“We’ve been doing this for years and now he wants to talk about voter fraud. It’s a smoke screen,” Cole said.

He also believes the country should abolish the Electoral College and use a popular vote to better reflect national opinion. And he voted in memory of his nephew who died at age 47 a week ago from surgery complications. 

“That’s what he would have wanted me to do. I’m a veteran, he’s a veteran. People don’t understand the real reason why we’re veterans is so you can make choices. I might not always agree with it, but you know,” Cole said.

“We’ll survive him”

The polls had been closed for hours, pundits were speculating on the outcome and Cherhonda Mason-Ayers was anxious.

A 47-year-old Biden-Harris supporter, she said she’s bracing herself for a Trump win, but that she has not given up. 

“If I prepare for the worst, the best is easy,” said Mason-Ayers.

“My plan for the rest of the evening is to calm myself, remove these anxieties, and know that whatever the outcome is tomorrow, I will be okay. If the outcome is not what I want it to be, I’ll make it. We’ll survive him.

“In all honesty, we’ve survived worse than him.” 


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