Southwest Minneapolis residents vote and tell their stories

Volunteers hand out coffee to voters Tuesday morning outside the Whittier Recreation Center as part of an initiative sponsored by the Whittier Alliance. Photo by Zac Farber

As voters trickled into the Whittier Recreation Center Tuesday morning, Cyndi Hovey and Nate Broadbridge offered them coffee and candy.

“People have been celebrating getting out and participating in democracy and having a little something warm in the chill of the morning has been super appreciated,” Hovey said. 

While more than 60% of Minneapolis voters had already cast their ballots early before Election Day — 166,961 in total —  residents still came to the polls by the hundreds on Nov. 3, with socially distanced lines sometimes stretching around the block. By noon, more than 36,000 votes had been cast in person in the city.

Here are a few voters’ stories:

Lyndale resident Alyssa Woodard said she’s had to work as many as five jobs during the pandemic to make ends meet. She wanted to vote early, but couldn’t find the time until Election Day. 

“There’s a fight for working people that I’m a part of,” she said, describing her key issues as health care and criminal justice reform. “I’ve dedicated my life to supporting those around me who don’t have as much, and I don’t understand [President Donald Trump’s] selfishness and greed.”

Like the plurality of Southwest voters, she supported Bernie Sanders in the primary, but she voted for former vice president Joe Biden on Nov. 3 despite feeling that “he doesn’t really stand for anything” and “isn’t an orator.” She said she wished she could vote for the Socialist Workers Party, but that it would be a waste of her vote.

“I’m not necessarily excited to say I voted for Biden, but I’m excited to see a positive change and I don’t want to live under four more years of Trump.”

Hadiya Shire, who works at the Loft Literary Center, said she found it difficult to get a mail-in ballot, but she ended up deciding to vote in person at the Lyndale Community School because she was concerned about voter suppression, especially in the wake of a confusing court decision directing the state to separate mail-in ballots received after Election Day.

“The stakes feel very high,” she said. “People at work seemed skeptical I wouldn’t just mail it in, but this was the right way to go. I rationalize that I go to the grocery store every week, so I can keep myself safe with PPE.”

To prepare for potential riots, Shire said she spent the day before the election stocking up on food and water and borrowing a cooler from a friend — time she said she wished she could have spent studying up on down-ballot candidates. 

“Whether it goes either way, people are going to be upset,” she said. 

Shire said she was on the fence between Sanders and Warren during the primaries and has a lot of pessimism about how much change can be achieved through the political system. She believes in choosing the “lesser of two evils” and voted for Biden, she said, because she thought he’d better address her main two issues: the “threat of racial violence and the global pandemic.”

Sean Petersen voted for Biden in the primaries because he liked his “wholesome demeanor.” 

While he’s been able to keep his job at Red Wagon Pizza Company during the pandemic, he feels burdened by “a constant feeling of unrest,” particularly around the rise in crime near his home on Lyndale Avenue. He said he wants racial equality and a strong economy. 

“I’ve always liked Joe Biden and I’ve always leaned Democrat, but right now it’s more about taking the country back from Trump,” he said.

Kate Williams voted for Biden out of hope that he can help lessen racial and economic division. But for the Whittier resident with two daughters in college, the election is mostly about Trump — and the need to hold him accountable. 

“A parent is held accountable for certain actions their child takes,” she said. “Why aren’t you held accountable for things you say and do as president.”

She was dismayed during the 2016 campaign when Trump was seen on video bragging about grabbing women’s vaginas. Billy Bush, the talk show host he bragged to, was fired, she noted, but Trump was elected president. 

“Your party says you’re wrong, but they still get behind you,” Williams said. “That’s a crime and you’re saying you commit crimes.”

Williams, a retired cook at Ebenezer Nursing Facility, thinks she understands Trump’s appeal.

“I watch him and laugh because he’s hilarious,” she said. “I laugh because I’ve never seen somebody who’s upheld as the United States president go on national TV and just say whatever they want. So I do get a show out of it — but I don’t want to renew the show.”

During the pandemic, Williams has taken on the attitude that “one day you’re here, one day you’re gone” and has struggled with not being able to see her daughters, the elder of whom is enrolled at Bethel University, where she’s repeatedly had to quarantine after COVID exposures.

Williams said she didn’t laugh when she heard Trump say that people with underlying conditions were going to die anyway. 

“Who says that?” she asks. “You don’t know how the families feel who lost family.”

In casting her vote, Williams said, it comes back to accountability. 

“I don’t like the fact he don’t man up,” she said. “Just say, ‘I’m wrong, I was wrong.’ I don’t think he looks at anybody as human except the Trump family. Maybe if he would man up and do the job he’s supposed to do for all people, then he’d have a chance.”