'It's gonna be a lot closer than people expect': swing voters in swing states speak out

Mike Belleme in North Carolina, Lauren Justice in Wisconsin, M Levy in Pennsylvania and Erin Kirkland in Michigan.
·17-min read

We sent four photographers to swing counties in swing states to ask early voters of various ages and political parties how they were feeling, which spanned from anxious to relieved after casting their ballot to proud and empowered. When asked what brought them out to vote, their differing reasons exemplified a starkly divided electorate.

These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

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North Carolina

Julius Kemp, 25

How are you feeling?
After voting today and after the last presidential debate yesterday, I’m pretty stern with my vote still being Joe Biden.

What is driving you to vote this year?
The need for change. We’ve had the last four years with President Trump and giving him a chance and Covid happening and it being such a sweep of a whole entire year of 2020 – a lot of expectations didn’t get met. That probably would be my biggest thing as far as understanding where we’re at as a nation and understanding where we want to go in the next four years. I think it was definitely the need for someone else to step into power.

Who are you voting for?
Biden.

Ruth Shaw (left) and Mario Robinson (right)

Mario Robinson, 34

How are you feeling?
I’ll be glad when it’s over.

What is driving you to vote this year?
Well, one, it’s a civil right. Two, just wanting to see more growth and change with the current climate. The police brutality is one thing. I actually am a business owner in Charlotte, and seeing the looting and the other things that was going on, I actually came out here and protested three straight nights. I got to see it actually firsthand from both sides.

There are a lot of people who may not come out publicly because they don’t want to be ridiculed, but it’s a lot of African American especially business owners you know who have had success here in Charlotte that are gonna vote for Trump. I think it’s gonna be a lot closer than people expect.

Who are you voting for?
Donald Trump.

Ruth Shaw, 72

How are you feeling?
I’m very excited to cast my vote in this election. I think we’re due for a change.

What is driving you to vote this year?
I vote every year, and what drives me to vote is the right to do so, and that’s the chance to make my voice heard. I’m particularly interested in all of the social and environmental issues. Those are the ones that are the nearest and dearest to my heart. And I’ve been deeply concerned to see the erosion of environmental regulations.

Who are you voting for?
I voted for Joe Biden very proudly.

Jordan Fenlason (left) and Andrew Lax (right)

Jordan Fenlason, 21

How are you feeling?
It’s very suspenseful. It just stinks to see the country torn, you know?

What is driving you to vote this year?
I definitely have strong beliefs and values, and I feel like it would be neglectful not to vote for those. I’m a young business owner actually, and I think a lot of the tax reform that Biden is possibly proposing would absolutely just wipe me and some of my other young entrepreneur friends out.

It’s really cool that it’s my first year voting as well, and it’s such a pivotal election.

Who are you voting for?
Trump.

Andrew Lax, 65

How are you feeling?
I’m glad I got it done and there was no line. Very relieved to have gotten it done.

What is driving you to vote this year?
Well, I like Biden and I hate Trump. Other than that I think we need to undo what’s been done. Coronavirus, and environment and climate change.

Who are you voting for?
Joe Biden.

Parker Wilson (left) and Windoll Gardner (right)

Parker Wilson, 41

How are you feeling?
I feel pretty good to go out and do my civic duty. Obviously I think this is a super important election.

What is driving you to vote this year?
I mean, there’s so many things right now. Like I said, I think it’s a huge, important election. Being of mixed racial background, I think the racial environment around the country is really in a bad spot. I feel like our leadership is not really doing a great job with that. I’d like to see a change as far as that’s concerned. The response to the coronavirus is obviously a big topic as well.

Who are you voting for?
Biden.

Windoll Gardner, 75

How are you feeling?
I’m feeling really good after the debates last night.

What is driving you to vote this year?
I vote every time I get a chance, because it is my right, and I can’t complain if I don’t vote, so here I am. I also voted for the economy and freedom.

Who are you voting for?
Trump.

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Pennsylvania

Connie Santos, 65 (with granddaughter Aria)

How are you feeling?
I’m feeling empowered.

What is driving you to vote this year?
Well, actually, I hadn’t planned on going to the polls. However, I did not receive my mail-in ballot so that’s why I’m here.

Who are you voting for?
I absolutely voted for all Democrats, down the line.

Monica Johnston, 75 and Joyce Narciso, 81, pictured together. Johnston and Narciso are friends with differing political views. Melvin Howard (right).

Monica Johnston, 75

How are you feeling?
Good. Happy. Voting’s important.

What is driving you to vote this year?
The character – the lack of character of our top officials, and the coronavirus, and concerns about social security and Medicare.

Who are you voting for?
Biden.

Joyce Narciso, 81

How are you feeling?
Well, I feel it’s a very, very important election after all the discrepancy and the different things you hear on the news. I voted all my life – I think it’s very, very important for people to vote. It’s our country and I want to keep it the way it is.

What is driving you to vote this year?
Social security and exactly what Monica said.

Monica: Well, I said the character of the top officials.

Joyce: Well, that’s true too, almost the same thing – the characters of who I really think should get in.

Who are you voting for?
Donald Trump.

Together: There’s the two of us – you’re a Biden [to Monica], and we’ve been friends forever. [Laughter.] Every once in a while we get in an argument but it never affects us.

Melvin Howard, didn’t give age

How are you feeling?
I’m fine, I’m fine.

What is driving you to vote this year?
I always vote.

Who are you voting for?
That’s private. C’mon now. Always private.

Susan Samuel (left) and Debbie Tice (right)

Susan Samuel, 52

How are you feeling?
I am fabulous, blessed and highly favored.

What is driving you to vote this year?
Because I feel that it’s a responsibility as a US citizen to vote. Being an African American woman, I’m also an educator, and I’m teaching students about voting and the importance of it – from the Voting Rights Act to civil rights, what our ancestors have gone through, and it wasn’t just people of color, it was all people that felt it wasn’t right. As Lyndon Johnson said: “We shall overcome.” So I feel it’s an honor standing on those who have died and were beaten, like Congressmen – and God bless his soul – John Lewis, whose skull was fractured so that I could walk in freely and have the choice to do it without having to go through that. It’s an honor to be here today.

Who are you voting for?
Biden and Kamala. Just even Kamala Harris being the first woman. The US is behind in the times.

Debbie Tice, 61

How are you feeling?
I feel great.

What is driving you to vote this year?
Well, this is a very crucial election. I’m a Democrat by party, but I have voted for Republican presidents, I have voted for Democrat presidents, and really to me it’s about who will lead the country and serve, you know, to help all people. And I felt like this election is probably one of the most important elections that I have ever faced in my lifetime.

Who are you voting for?
I voted for Biden, absolutely, I think he’s the better choice as far as experience, policies, you know, just overall understanding where this country is and where it needs to go. Again, I don’t necessarily vote along party lines, but in this election I picked the man that I thought would really be the best for our country and all of us, including myself, my husband, my children, my grandchildren.

Michael Byrne, 26

How are you feeling?
Average.

What is driving you to vote this year?
Honestly, I’m not much of a political person, but I feel like – I don’t know – I don’t really do much of this sort of thing. So I just filled out the ballot just based on what I’m hearing, what I’m seeing. I want to at least contribute to something.

Who are you voting for?
Democrats. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

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Michigan

Angela Hence, 38, with daughter, Jada, six

How are you feeling?
I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m just up in the air. I have no idea.

What is driving you to vote this year?
I vote every year.

Who are you voting for?
I voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I really like Kamala Harris. I like the fact that she’s more personable.

Jerry Brock (left) and Diana Peagler (right)

Jerry Brock, 45

How are you feeling?
I am feeling confident that on election night the correct person will be elected for four more years!

What is driving you to vote this year?
This is gonna be probably the most epic election ever. It seems like everything’s split right down the middle right now.

Who are you voting for?
Donald Trump . There’s so many reasons. This Democratic side right now to me is so far left, and Trump has done everything that he said he was gonna do from the moment he was elected till now. He produces results.

Diana Peagler, 68

How are you feeling?
I’m excited because the sleeping giant – which is the public – they’re finally getting how important democracy is for the quality of our lives.

What is driving you to vote this year?
When I was a teenager I always looked forward to being able to register to vote. That took me toward my adulthood. And I’ve always voted. You couldn’t live in my house if you didn’t vote.

Who are you voting for?
It should be a no-brainer: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Because they get it. And people have seen the quality of our lives just deteriorate. Every segment of our society has had a chance to be punished and brutalized by this current administration. And that’s not America.

Samantha and Jacob Boida, siblings (left) and David Millar (right)

Samantha, 23 and Jacob Boida, 25

How are you feeling?
Samantha: I feel on edge.

Jacob: I don’t really blame people for voting Trump in 2016 because the DNC handled it extremely poorly.Trump has a lot of “plans” but no policy. [But] it’s been exhausting and very sad seeing people be used and forgotten as soon as [Trump] gets what he wants.

What is driving you to vote this year?
Samantha: This country is very divided right now and we all need to remember we are together in all of this. Also, that Black lives matter!

Jacob: Our parents have always really pushed the right to vote. It’s something that you should always go out and do and be informed about.

Who are you voting for?
Samantha: I voted for Biden. To be honest he wasn’t really my first choice when all of the candidates came out. But I feel like I would have much rather had him, somebody who actually cares about personal goals and the people who are lower class – who are actually being taxed like crazy – when big corporations are paying maybe even less than what we’re paying for taxes.

Jacob: I voted for Biden. He’s not a perfect candidate, no candidate will be, but I personally just feel like the dissension that our current president is creating just can’t go on for another four years.

David Millar, 31

How are you feeling?
It is absolutely absurd the we have to deal with what we’re currently dealing with.

What is driving you to vote this year?
It’s so easy for us to be manipulated by social media and that’s where our political climate actually comes from today. Now, I still don’t believe that either candidate, either primary candidate with the Republicans or Democrats, are viable candidates.

Who are you voting for?
Howie Hawkins.A lot of people will call me stupid, they’ll call me ignorant, ‘They’re never going to get elected.’ It’s that mentality that prevents us from actually getting some form of change. Do you know how dumb we look because we only have two primary parties and these primary parties are now so polarized and divided? We’re not gonna get anywhere when we’re so polarized that even if we do vote for a change you’re never gonna get anywhere.

Filippo Leone, 60

What is driving you to vote this year?
I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I made all my kids register to vote and make sure that they all vote for Trump.

Who are you voting for?
I am a huge Trump fan, and I think he’s the best president we ever had. Why? The economy, you know, he’s just common sense.

Divider

Wisconsin

Tija Simitz, 18

How are you feeling?
I’m nervous and excited for the election. I’m excited for the outcome and to see what happens especially in Wisconsin, as a swing state and what happened in 2016.

What is driving you to vote this year?
I’m seeking change, and I’m really passionate about this election more than anything. And I know that my age group is underrepresented usually in the polls.

Who are you voting for?
Biden/Harris.

Ada Donnelley Tower, 18

How are you feeling?
Proud. It was my first presidential election that I’ve ever voted in, so it’s really cool to actually be able to see my views put into action.

What is driving you to vote this year?
This is probably the most important election in a very, very, very long time, so I wanted to make sure that I was able to put in my vote for who I thought should win.

Who did you vote for?
Biden.

Chasee Boyd (left) and Shane Scott (right)

Chasee Boyd, 22

How are you feeling?
I’m feeling good. Excited to see some new people out early voting.

What is driving you to vote this year?
A lot of things bring me out to vote. . It’s probably the most important election of our generation and I think it’s just to use your voice and get out there and vote for people who don’t have the ability or don’t have the representation in office in the last four years.

Who did you vote for?
Biden.

Shane Scott, 66

How are you feeling?
Great. I’ve been a blue Democrat all my life and I never thought I’d ever see anything like this.

What is driving you to vote this year?
To get rid of him. I’ve always liked Joe and I know he can step in and we know we need a national mask mandate. We’ve had seatbelt laws – with matters of public health you surrender a certain amount of your rights. I have no right to make you sick. I have an obligation to you. I have an obligation to the community. If one of my loved ones struggles to breathe and ends up intubated and ends up dying, it’s squarely at Trump’s feet. So that’s why I’m here.

Who did you vote for?
Biden.

Henry Morrison and Gloria Krejci

Henry Morrison, 19

How are you feeling?
I think I’m a little bit nervous. I hope my candidate wins, but I’ve felt that before and it hasn’t always worked out.

What is driving you to vote this year?
Mainly the environment. I think just being young and knowing that so many fossil fuels are being burned. The world is definitely going to need someone now and in the future who cares about the planet that I’m going to live in and my kids and grandkids. I think that’s very important now.

Who are you voting for?
Voting for Biden.

Gloria Krejci, 50

How are you feeling?
I’m happy to come and vote. I know that they want my vote so that’s why I decided to come early and vote.

What is driving you to vote this year?
I just really want to vote. I am a qualified voter. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings if I say who I’m going to vote for because [I have been a] Republican from the beginning.

Who are you voting for?
I’m just voting for Trump still. Even though there’s a lot of people against him.

Eric Johannsen, 53

How are you feeling?
I think it’s really important. It’s the most important election we’ve had in a long time.

What is driving you to vote this year?
I want my vote to count, and frankly I want to send Donald Trump home.

Who are you voting for?
Voting for Biden.

Sally Johannsen, 53

How are you feeling?
I think it’s the most important election. We’re fighting for the soul of our country, and if we don’t vote we can’t change things that are unacceptable to us.

What is driving you to vote this year?
Most of all I’m thinking about my young daughters . I want them to grow up knowing that there’s power within them and each individual, that we get to choose our leaders. It never should be a dictatorship. Democracy is very important. I grew up in Montreal, and when I was a young girl around their age a political party took over. We were English, they were French, and overnight it became a dictatorship. And that’s what I see happening in this country if Trump gets re-elected. And if he does we will probably move back to Canada, because this is not where I want to raise my daughters.

Who are you voting for?
Voting for Biden.