Meet the first people to vote in the 2020 presidential election

The first votes of the 2020 election have been cast by North Carolinians who received and returned their absentee ballots last week, kicking off an election season likely to be dominated by voters who cast ballots without ever visiting a polling place.

Fifty-four voters received and returned their ballots on Sept. 4, the first day North Carolina counties began sending ballots to those who requested absentees.

Those who received the first ballots are mostly North Carolinians who live overseas or members of the military deployed internationally or to bases across the country.

The very first person to cast a ballot was a 22-year-old U.S. Army chaplain’s assistant based at Fort Hood, Texas. That man, a registered Republican, did not respond to The Hill’s request for an interview.

Almost all of those who agreed to be interviewed said they had cast ballots for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. None said they had voted for President Trump.

“I like Biden and [Biden’s running mate] Kamala Harris. I’m not saying I’m voting for a person, I’m voting for a set of policies and a set of programs that I think would be in the best interests of the citizenry. I know a lot of people want to make it a personality contest,” said Brent Angell, a professor emeritus of social work at the University of Windsor in Canada. “I’m not particularly impressed with the policies and performance of the president. I’m not really a big fan of people who make disparaging comments about others.”

Maris Buttacavoli, 71, said she would have preferred to vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) because of his positions backing universal health care and universal education. But she cast a straight Democratic ticket from New Jersey, where she lives with her family.

“He did a great job as vice president, and I’m really tired of Trump. I don’t know why we ever voted for this man. He is not fit to be president,” Buttacavoli said.

Several voters said they appreciated the unique perspective of observing their home country from a different part of the world. None liked what they are seeing.

“Living overseas, watching from afar, it’s pretty disgraceful what’s going on. I work in some of the world’s worst countries and they’re worried about the level of corruption and violence they’re seeing,” said Scott Guggenheim, a former World Bank official based in Indonesia who is back in the United States to teach a course at Georgetown University. “You sort of assume there are all these guardrails through the judicial system, through precedent. It turns out when you step on them, it doesn’t matter.”

“I keep trying to find a way to vote for a Republican, but in this election it was impossible. I voted a straight blue ticket,” Guggenheim said.

This year, a record number of voters are likely to vote early, either by mail or at in-person polling places. Absentee ballot requests are multiples higher than ever before, according to election administrators in many states who report request statistics. In North Carolina, 710,000 people formally requested an absentee ballot through Tuesday; at this point in 2016, just 45,000 had asked for an absentee ballot.

President Trump — an absentee voter himself — has cast false aspersions on mail-in votes, alleging fraud in the system where no evidence of such fraud exists. Some Republican strategists are worried that Trump’s comments will cause Republican voters to forgo voting by mail. In North Carolina, Democratic requests for absentee ballots outnumber Republican requests by a more than three-to-one margin.

Among the 32 voters who cast a ballot on the first day of voting, 17 were Democrats, seven were Republicans and eight more were not affiliated with either party.

Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College, said North Carolina’s early voters tend to be older, whiter and more Republican than the electorate as a whole. The early vote this year has been substantially more Democratic than is typical, though with almost eight weeks left until Election Day that advantage may even out.

Some voters said they were motivated to get their ballots in early because of concerns about the U.S. Postal Service, which has warned voters that logjams could delay mail delivery — including ballots.

“This election in particular has me worried due to all the news about basically trying to suppress absentee ballots,” Sonja Dohse, a foreign language instructor who voted for Biden, said in an email from Mexico. The Federal Voting Assistance Program she used to vote “allows people like me to vote particularly early. I requested my ballot in August and voted as soon as I was able on September 4th. In that way, if there was ANY administrative problem I have over a month to fix it and make sure my vote counts.”

Others said they were happy with the process by which they got and returned their ballots. Christopher Henry, 30, a teacher who runs a print shop in a small town in southwest France, said he printed, filled out, signed and scanned his ballot as soon as it hit his email inbox last week.

“It came around noon, so I just went and downloaded it and printed it out and scanned it back,” Henry said. “It works quite well, I think.”

Henry said he voted for Biden, though he had supported Sanders in the primary. He compared his vote to the French election in 2002, when voters overwhelmingly gave the deeply unpopular President Jacques Chirac a second term rather than elect far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen.

“I’m not passionate about Joe Biden,” Henry said. “He aligns more with my world view and what I think is correct than what Donald Trump is doing. It was no question.”

Many of the voters who cast their ballots early said they were put off, even disgusted, by today’s politics. Some pined for the Obama administration. Others fondly remembered George W. Bush’s years in office.

“I think about when Bush was president, and during those times, how the world was compared to today,” said Christina Carter, 47, a single mother of three who declined to say which presidential candidate she chose. “As a voter, when you look at your ballot and you think about all these years of voting, at my age, looking at the world today, it kind of makes you a little sad.”

Tags 2020 presidential election Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Joe Biden North Carolina
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