UChicago Voices on the 2020 Election

 /  Nov. 1, 2020, 5:14 p.m.

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On November 3, 2020, voters will go to the polls in one of the most contentious and unprecedented elections in American history. Like the 2018 Midterms, which saw an influx of new eligible voters and a spike of political activity, young voters in 2020 continue to be an important demographic with the potential to swing races in many states. The Gate met with UChicago students that represent a variety of states and political affiliations to learn their thoughts ahead of the upcoming election.

For first-time voters, how do you feel about being able to vote in this election?

Regan O’Fallon, a first year from LaSalle County, Illinois, was excited to finally be able to vote, which she viewed as a platform to share her beliefs. O’Fallon felt that “there's a lot of people that take [voting] for granted, or just feel like it's minuscule compared to the larger scheme of things,” but that it was important to exercise her right to vote. She was particularly excited to be able to vote in her district’s congressional race for Illinois 16, which is currently held by Rep. Adam Kinzinger. O’Fallon found that Kinzinger’s challenger, Democrat Dani Brzozowski, had “new fresh ideas and new perspectives” and so she has been following the race closely.

First year Arushi Bansal is also voting for the first time, which was one of the things she was looking forward to in 2020. A registered Democrat from the Bay Area, Bansal said, “in my high school, I always did a lot of stuff regarding political activism and we did a lot of mock elections. So being able to actually cast my ballot was really exciting.”

At UChicago, about two-thirds of eligible students are registered to vote. In 2016, about 75 percent of UChicago registered students voted, while in 2018 only 60 percent voted. What motivates you to make the effort to go out and vote?

“Regardless of my decision to vote or not to vote, a decision will be reached” was Estrella Hernandez’s motivation for voting. Hernandez, a second year from Texas that is unaffiliated with a party but identifies as a progressive, highlights the “many generations of voting activism bringing racial equity and gender equity” and that “a lot of people have sacrificed to make [voting possible,]” which compels her to exercise her right to vote.

Elisabeth I., a third year voting in New Jersey, emphasizes how easy it is to vote: “It's not super hard to fill out the mail-in ballot.” In 2020, however, she felt particularly compelled to vote. “With Amy [Coney Barrett] now on the [Supreme] Court,” Elisabeth votes because “it would be good to have reproductive rights still.” While not registered with a party, she adds that “I was more just passionate about not wanting Trump and Mitch McConnell running [the country]”.  

Andre Altherr, a third year registered Republican, similarly felt the civic obligation to vote as Hernandez did, saying that “the higher voter participation, the higher the legitimacy the election has. That's good for democracy, and therefore, it's my duty to vote.” Altherr also said that he also votes because “It’s a little bit fun . . . I’ve always wanted to pull the lever when you vote.” He unfortunately has not yet had the opportunity to pull a lever when he votes as his local polling place in Chicago has electronic voting machines, he added.

This election season, there’s been a lot of rhetoric about mail-in ballots: the difficulties it poses on election commissions, delays in the postal service, and alleged potential for voter fraud. What thoughts and concerns did you have about voting, based on these discussions? Did it sway your decision on where and how you voted?

Being from California, Bansal was more surprised at the barriers to mail-in voting present in other states: “I thought it was something that was universal . . . Growing up, my parents were always absentee voters. They would fill it out at home and then they would go and just drop it off at the voting spot. They never went in person.” As a result, Bansal was already inclined to vote by mail. She also said this gave her the opportunity to do more research on who was on her ballot.

Marcelo de la Mora, a fourth year who votes in Illinois, also felt strongly in support of mail-in voting: “Mail-in ballots are actually more secure and immune to tampering (which doesn’t happen anyway). According to the experts, whom we should listen to, voter fraud is a myth.” De la Mora additionally highlighted what he saw as the ultimate driver behind the rhetoric against mail-in voting: “[It’s] a sorry excuse used to disenfranchise minority populations. Voter suppression . . . is not a myth and deeply saddening—silencing people is undemocratic and illegal. The government should encourage and make it as easy as possible for people to vote.”

Which policies did you want candidates—presidential, congressional, or local—to focus on? Do you feel these issues had sufficient attention?

Sadie Morriss, a fourth year registered Democrat from Washington, felt that the discussions by presidential candidates on mental illness, particularly within the broader dialogue about police reform, were not as substantive as they needed to be. “What's been lost in the conversation, from my perspective, is that these crises will just keep happening, unless we have sufficient housing, sufficient mental health care, and some sort of social service system that helps prevent the behavioral health crises from happening and give support to people,” Morriss said.

Hernandez was more concerned about the lack of attention education policy received in the presidential race: “That was discussed very heavily during the primaries, but obviously as COVID-19 became more of a threat to daily life in America, as well as economic downturn, it’s kind of faded into the background.” She was, however, happy about the focus on healthcare, pointing out that the coronavirus’s effects are “making people aware that pre-existing conditions aren’t something that happens to a small subset of the population.” Hernandez’s own experience with her grandparents having a COVID-19 scare highlighted healthcare disparities in her hometown of San Antonio. She believes many are having similar experiences and are also becoming aware of “the lack of equity in healthcare or the difficulty if you're a working class person, if you're a person of color . . . just to see a general practitioner to make sure everything's going well.”

Deblina Mukherjee, a fourth year registered Democrat from New Jersey that identifies as left of the Democratic Party, also was concerned about education and the coronavirus. In her hometown, there has been a lot of debate about whether schools should be open. “I went to public schools and I think it's unsafe, especially for teachers who are just like old people—essentially underpaid old people— to go back,” said Mukherjee. “I was voting for a candidate that would not make it so that my teachers literally die.” On the national level, however, she says her reaction is best described as “just voted, feel like shit, crazy face emoji.”

If you were dispassionate about your choices for president, how did you feel about your down-ballot choices? Were you excited about any particular race/candidate?

Jack M., a third year from Florida, is a registered Republican who was frustrated about the presidential race: “I voted for Biden, I just can't pull myself to vote for Trump . . . I just can't do it.” He was, however, much more excited about the rest of his ballot, including a state-level amendment, “which makes it a bit easier for people to register to vote, which is something I'm in support of.” Jack also commented on his local sheriff’s race, “Human trafficking might be the biggest issue that I have. [The current sheriff’s] done a lot of work in my area to attack human trafficking, so I was excited to vote for him.”

Morriss, however, felt frustrated that her down-ballot choices lacked substantive policies to address homelessness: “Washington is terrible around homelessness, which is really tied up with mental illness and disability. The platforms of the candidates were not that different . . . which frustrates me a lot about Seattle, especially because it's so liberal and so wealthy. We could tackle the problem but we choose not to.”

Altherr, while not feeling excited about any down-ballot race in particular, echoed similar sentiments to those of Jack, which is why he felt dispassionate about his choices for president. Altherr stated that he identified as a “New York Republican” that was a fan of politicians “like Nelson Rockefeller and Thomas Dewey . . . the guys that stood for honest government, but government that also was efficient and did good things for the people and were willing to make compromises with both parties.” Altherr registered as a Republican in Chicago out of “sentimental attachment to the party” but has not actually voted in any Republican primary and voted for Joe Biden in the general.

Do you have any final thoughts as we near Election Day?

Mukherjee gave cautious words about voting: “[There’s a] focus on . . . getting [young people] accustomed to procedural civics like voting, just something that you do, once every four-ish years. And then you wash your hands up a bit. That's not the way our civic system works or should work. There is no right to vote in the Constitution, so I think having substantive civic interests is the way to go and exercising your rights in other ways.”

Jack emphasized that “it’s hard to focus on the polls right now, just cause of what 2016 taught us” but that he feels there should be “some solace within the hardcore Democratic base that more of a centrist doesn't hurt their chances.”

O’Fallon’s final thoughts were optimistic, based on “seeing the records that have already been broken with early voting and voter turnout and especially with younger people.” She further said that “it makes me really hopeful for future elections and I really hope that people stay this engaged.”

And de la Mora offers these final words: “VOTE, VOTE, VOTE!”  

Claire Cappaert

Claire Cappaert is a 4th year from Des Moines, Iowa majoring in Public Policy and Russian & East European Studies. This is her third year as the interviews editor for The Gate. In her free time, she enjoys spending time at the lake, drinking coffee, and watching the Chicago Bears.


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