What Voters Across America Are Saying About the 2020 Election

·39 min read

Photos: Katie Kauss

Franklin, Kentucky

Despite the trucks parked around the town bearing candidates' names in the town square in Franklin, Kentucky, unity was top of mind for early voters on Oct. 30. While waiting in relatively short lines, masked voters and their families spoke to PEOPLE about their hopes and expectations for 2021 — and whether the COVID-19 pandemic and the country's current social unrest contributed to their votes.

Denver Bell (top, left), a "60+," retired teacher and ball coach, who voted a few days prior but was in the town square running other errands, said he voted early because of both the virus and to avoid lines. "Even though it's a small town, sometimes the lines can get a little long," Bell said.

Bell, who had COVID during the summer, did not reveal who he voted for, but said that "truth" was important to him as a voter. "I couldn't be a school teacher if I lied to my students and told them untrue things, and that means a lot to me," Bell said.

Devin Nealy, 30, (top, right) who voted along with his wife Kellie, 27, also did not say who he was voting for, but said they were both affected financially by the pandemic.

"When we filed for unemployment, [my wife] was off for 14 days and I was off for 28 days and when we filed for unemployment they denied it and we're trying to fight that right now," explained David. "He lost a month of pay and I lost two weeks pay," Kellie added.

The couple added that local elections are also top of mind.

"I like to see how [local candidates] impact us with helping out, with bringing other companies to help with the revenue, all the events that go on and also how they help out with the local law enforcement and first aid and first responders, so that's one thing I look at when voting," David explained."

"Having a daughter, it hit a little more home than it would have before having her."

—Grant Johnson

For social worker Grant Johnson, 31, (below, right) his newborn daughter played a part in his vote. "I just had a daughter, 6 months old, born in April and some of the things Trump said about women or stuff like that didn't really sit well with me," Johnson said. "Especially having a daughter, it hit a little more home than it would have before having her."

Johnson added that he thinks Joe Biden will move Franklin "forward" while Trump is "trying to go backwards."

"Franklin is a factory town and I want to see more diverse job opportunities," explained Johnson. "I felt very narrowed in, I thought my life was going to be working at a factory and that didn't really fit me, and I just like to see places like Franklin, Kentucky, have more options than just factory work."

Mandy Thurman, 40, (above, left) a registered nurse and mother of five, also voted with her children in mind.

"Historically, I have voted Republican and I am a registered Republican. I did vote Democratic Party and voted for Biden this year," Thurman said.

"Honestly, what made me decide to choose to vote for Biden was everything that's going on in our world right now," Thurman said. "I am the mother of a 5-year-old Black son and the way I felt like Trump has led us as a nation, I felt like it was very necessary for me to try to change [where] we as a nation are headed right now."

REPORTING BY KATIE KAUSS

Chicago, Illinois

In and around Chicago, voters lined up early and broke state records as they cast their votes in the 2020 election.

Illinois' voter turnout in 2020 has about doubled since 2016, with more than 3.5 million votes cast even before Tuesday's election deadline.

Voters waiting in line told PEOPLE this election was worth the troubles, despite the cold weather and long waits at some polling places in and around Midwest's largest city.

"I want to make sure that my vote doesn't just represent me, but represents all of us."

—Renee schulz

"Oh trust me, as a Chicagoan, it's been so much worse," Renee Schulz, 27, (above, center) said, laughing, last Thursday, before explaining why she braved 30-degree temperatures for roughly an hour in line. "As a woman, there's so many more things that are being stacked against the deck for me. I want to make sure that my vote doesn't just represent me, but represents all of us."

In the suburb of Oak Lawn, about 17 miles south of the city, 24-year-old Susana Meza (above, left) said the same issue brought her out to vote — though, she just came to personally make sure her mail-in ballot arrived safely.

"With everything going on, I prefer not to take the risk of maybe not being counted," Meza said from behind a mask, hand sanitizer packed in her pocket. "I decided to just come in and be as safe as I can."

Holly Lamantia, (above, right) a 45-year-old Chicago area nurse, told PEOPLE the pandemic is what was on her mind as she readied herself to vote against Donald Trump's re-election.

"I understand it's a virus, it runs rampant, and there's only so many measures you can do, but I wish we had a little bit more stronger leadership," Lamantia said. "A little bit more positive, not so gruff all the time."

—REPORTING BY SEAN NEUMANN

Norwich, New York

Sam Gillette for PEOPLE

On Friday afternoon, under a cold, gray sky, 13 people lined up outside the Chenango County Office Building in Norwich, New York, to cast their vote early. With masks on and standing at a distance from each other, upstate New Yorkers shared concerns about the state of the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic and their frustration over the "childish behavior" of both parties — with some voters taking verbal swipes at President Donald Trump.

"I'm hoping to get the treasonous bastard out of office," said Arthur Sisco, a 50-year-old claims supervisor, who voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.

"He is for the rich only, and the little people are getting messed over by him," he continued. "Healthcare has gone down. Our wages have gone down. The work around here we can do has gone down. He's just not for the little person."

Sisco adds that one of his main concerns with the Trump administration is its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"They're in denial of it. I've had two relatives and my dentist die of COVID," he said. "So, I've put two people [in] the ground because of it. It's real, and it's happening. And denying it's not right.”

Nolleen Barber (above left), a 23-year old administrative clerk at Hospice and Palliative Care of Chenango County, cast her ballot for the first time ever. While she declined to share her views about the presidential candidates, she said she was inspired to go to the polls because of her coworkers.

"They're very passionate women," Barber said, "and it's driven me to come out and make my voice heard, too."

While Costantino Oliviero didn't vote for President Trump in the 2016 election, he's voting for him this year. "I'm sticking with who's in office," the 67-year-old retiree said. "Because he stands up for everybody and he's doing his best. It's a hard job ... And I feel that he's been doing something for the country… I think he's a great president."

Terri Smith, a longtime voter and Democrat, came out to vote with her nephew, Christopher Gaff (above, right). While Smith hopes to help evict President Trump from the White House, she's also concerned about other pressing issues.

"We definitely need to get rid of the electoral college," she said. "Healthcare is a huge issue. People saving and being able to buy homes and cars. Equal rights. What's going on in this country is a shame — it's just awful."

Smith said she's dismayed by how the election has played out, and said she's seen a lot more "hatred" in this election than in 2016; Gaff agreed.

"The childish behavior, name calling, insults. All that is just disgusting,” she said. “That is no way for someone to represent our country.”

Smith said she’s seen a lot more “hatred” in this election than in 2016. Her nephew agreed.

Sam Gillette for PEOPLE

Chris Kemnah (above) has also been unsettled by the vitriol he’s witnessed during the 2020 election.

“Well, honestly, it feels like it never stopped from 2016 until now,” the certified organic dairy farmer, 44, said of Trump’s presidential campaign. “[For the first debate,] I wished there was a mute button.”

Kemnah didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 and plans on voting for Biden this year. He said he’s voting for Biden, not because of the former vice president specifically, “but to maybe stop the everyday lies.”

Kemnah, who was waiting in line with his wife Samantha, explained that their business hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic. But life has changed for their four children, who are still in school.

"What are we going to do for the young people? What kind of future will they have?"

—chris kemnah

“We have to figure things out. We have to figure out how we're going to take care of this debt, global climate change,” he said. “What are we going to do for the young people? We have four kids ourselves… What kind of future will they have related to all of that stuff?”

—REPORTING BY SAM GILLETTE

Livermore, California

Home of “The World’s Fastest Rodeo,” the northern California town of Livermore is composed of ranchers, scientists, and now Silicon Valley workers who, pre-COVID, boarded buses taking them to work. Livermore was short on early voter turnout on Nov. 2 — many residents opted for mail-in ballots, which could be dropped off via drive-thru — but those who did show up to vote reflected the town’s diversity.

Angela Adams, a realtor who declined to give her age but has been voting since 1966 (“just add it up” she laughed) stressed that she thinks “it is important to vote in every election. We have that privilege, we have the freedom and we have the responsibility.” When asked about this year’s election in particular, Adams also said that she’s grateful “that more people are taking an interest in their country.”

Joanne Bezis, a retired elementary school teacher, said that voting is always important, but more than ever this year because “I want to see Trump not have another term in office.”

Bezis also addressed California’s many propositions on the ballot. “There were also a lot of propositions that I felt I had to respond to. We have rentals so we already have statewide rental control, so I didn’t want to see more measures of rent control to go on top of that,” she explained.

Aaron, 26, said taxes were the most important issue for him in this election. “I just want more money in my pocket. As a young person, that’s important to me,” he said.

—REPORTING BY SUSAN YOUNG

Jackson, Wyoming

Dina Mishev for PEOPLE

People of all ages — born in all parts of the country — gathered on Oct. 30 to vote early in the Wyoming city. And although the state is historically red, a diverse range of issues were top of mind for the voters PEOPLE spoke to.

“What wasn’t important [to me]? My rights, my kids, the environment,” Julie Guttormson, 45, (below, left) a fitness studio owner and trainer, said, when asked what contributed to her vote this year.

When it comes to talking politics with her kids, Guttormson says, “They ask, they care, they know. We are not a Trump family, but he is our president and early on we did our best to not voice how we felt, but they knew; they listen, they hear.” She adds that her daughter is especially engaged. “She’s reading about [late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg] —they're so far ahead of where I was at 11. It is really amazing. She is understanding a bit about what she did for women and that is pretty powerful.”

Guttormson said healthcare is another key issue on the ballot for her family. “We have good insurance, but even good insurance comes with a high price tag these days. When I had my stroke 15 years ago, it wasn’t that bad. I can’t imagine what it would be now.”

Caroline Willis, 25, (above, right) a wilderness therapy field guide, drove to Jackson from her home in Utah to vote in her former home state.

I’ve had friends affected by COVID that were living in areas that didn’t take policies as seriously as they could have because they were taking orders from President Trump,” Willis explained, adding that natural land preservation also contributed to her decision. “Being out west I feel so privileged to take advantage of all the public lands. I think that the heritage of those lands is important and should be respected, and I feel there are quite a few people running in Wyoming that stand for that heritage and that want to bring that to importance and also to keep those lands protected for all citizens' use.”

Isaiah Smith Owens, 24, who works at Smith’s/Kroger grocery, was motivated to vote “to make a change for the future generation.”

“I think that as young people we have to focus on the environment and we have to focus on being able to educate ourselves so that we go a lot farther as a country,” Owens said, adding that increased “basic wages” are a core issue for him.

"I have to do my part as young person to progress this country."

—-Isaiah smith owens

And though he’s from a historically red state (Alabama), and now living in another, Owens wants his voice to be heard. “I think that either way, I have to do my part as a young person to progress this country. No matter where I’m at in the country, I’m always going to go out to make it happen,” he explained.

Anita Isom, 87, who has voted Democratic “forever,” criticized President Trump’s COVID response — and said she felt a Biden win would help the country bounce back.

“It can’t help but change [if Biden is elected] because I think, at least I hope, that Biden would ... not throw out statements that are false,” said Isom. “When you listen to the news, there will be a statement from Trump saying that the doctors are lying. [Or that] people aren’t dying ... [or] we’ve got everything handled."

—REPORTED BY DINA MISHEV

Rochester Hills, Michigan

At the Rochester Hills city office Nov. 2, about 40 minutes outside of Detroit, people who were worried about long lines on Election Day showed up the day to vote via absentee ballot - and were greeted with hours-long waits.

Resident Kevin Kaminski, 54, (above, right) an automotive design engineer, waited in line three hours to get a ballot. Though he does not consider himself a Trump supporter (“each candidate has their good and bad,”) he voted for the president because “I’m under the thought that Democrats want socialism, and socialism will kill this country,” he says. “Look at Canada, all the taxes they pay.”

Shidjwan Voiles, 58, (above, left, with son Liam) is a supervisor for the Covid cleaning team that disinfects the Chrysler Sterling Stamping Plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan. She waited in line for three hours to cast a vote “for Joe” - after voting for Trump four years ago (and Obama four years before that).

Though Voiles says she typically leans conservative, she was unhappy with Trump’s handling of the Coronavirus crisis (“You can’t blame Trump for everything...But we weren’t prepared. I don’t know if it all lies in his hands, I didn’t like that he downplayed it”) and what she sees as “dangerous” language (“ I also don’t like how he handles foreign affairs. He provokes people. He scares me the way he talks about other leaders”).

Liam, 20, who is biracial (his father, who was white, died several years ago) identifies as Republican and planned to vote for Trump. “He’s doing things,” he says. “Like building the wall and trying to make the country safe.”

On the subject of race, Liam says, “People can say they love black people but it doesn’t mean they do.”

-REPORTING BY ELLEN PILIGIAN

Phoenix, Arizona

Amanda Kukkola

In Phoenix, the lines of about 20 or 30 people were calm and respectful - and very quiet.

George Fields, 76, a retiree, (below, left) said he wanted to vote in-person because he was concerned that a mail-in ballot wouldn’t be properly recorded.

“I voted for President Trump because he’s the best choice. He’s taken a country that was in turmoil and turned it into a country that isn’t,” Fields said. “The economy, unemployment, what else did a man have to do? If we hadn’t had the pandemic, we would still be climbing.”

If Trump doesn’t win his re-election bid, Fields has an idea for what he can do next: “The man’s a billionaire! He can do anything he wants. If I was him, I’d take Melania and go on a cruise and get laid.”

Report analyst Norman Starks, 44, (above, center) is hoping for “change, consistent change – and to keep growing as a country,” he says, adding that he cast a vote for Biden “so we can get some change going.”

Specifically, Starks says, “I hope to see change in taxing, put more money back into the economy. I’d like to see the world come back down again and get back to some normalcy – there’s too much hatred going on right now. Get back the love in the country.”

Tami Eeadle, 39, (above, right) owns an exterminating business, and cast her first-ever vote for Trump, saying she believes he’s best equipped to support her small business in the future.

“I hope to see Americans get more help financially and see the economy grow,” she says. “I feel like [Trump] gives more support to those rather than the big – I know he has big companies himself – but I feel like he more supports small business rather than the big corporate ones.”

She also cares about Covid, having lost a friend to it last month, and says she hopes to see it go away in 2021. But ultimately, she was glad to use her voice today. “I just think the more the better, no matter how it works out or who wins, I just feel like it’s my public duty to vote.”

Denise Summers (above, left) said she votes in person every four years. The 53-year-old, who works in client solutions for a software company, emphasized that she researched both candidates heavily before deciding on Trump: “I’m one of those who leave my options open because I weigh my options highly and my personal opinions are dear to me and what I want to see in government, so I look to see who best fits on what I’d like to see.”

Why did Trump get her vote? “Because of the religious freedoms he has fought for … and I don’t want to be socialistic,” she said.

"Either way, I feel like we'll figure it out, because we always do. America does pretty good at standing together."

—olivia powers

As a first-time voter, Olivia Powers, 18, (above, right) “came out to vote today because ... I feel like I needed to put my say in.”

The caregiver said had a few key issues that led her to vote for Biden.

“I don’t agree with what Trump says about basic human rights. I feel like everyone deserves to live comfortably in their own way, no matter if you’re gay, straight, or the color of your skin – it shouldn’t matter because that’s what America’s about,” she says. “Black Lives Matter plays into effect in my voting because my future kids are going to be in this country, and I feel like my life matters. I don’t like that people are acting like it doesn’t.”

She’s optimistic, though, that the country will unite, no matter which candidate wins: “Either way I feel like we’ll figure it out because we always do. America does pretty good at standing together. We’ll end up coming together again in 2021 once it all dies down.”

-REPORTING BY AMANDA KUKKOLA

Jacksonville, Florida

"People literally fight and die for our right to vote. It's the least I can do, really."

—richard leon

The coronavirus pandemic did not cause arborist Richard Leon, 36, (above, left) to reconsider his plans to vote in person.

“People literally fight and die for our right to vote,” he said. “My family fled communist Cuba to come to this country where we had the opportunity to do this. It's the least I could do, really."

Jobs were on the brain for Ronald Johnson, 57, who was voting with Earnestime Brown, 64, Michael Murray, 43, and Mattis Murray (above, right). “We need a change,” he said. “Right now, our country is in turmoil. A lot of people are out of work and we need some new guidance."

Pam Finn, 55, a stay-at-home mom, and James Barthlow, 39, who works in the food service industry, (above, left) both voted for Trump. They both said that while they didn’t always agree with the way the president spoke, they did agree with his policies; said Pam, “he has attempted to fulfill all his promises.”

And Logan Fleetwood, 26, (above, right) is an auto mechanic and a first-time voter who said “previously I hadn't voted and felt like I didn't have a voice. I felt like it was important this time."

-REPORTING BY VIRGINIA CHAMLEE

Montgomery Township, Pennsylvania

In Montgomery Township, about an hour outside of Philadelphia, about 100 people lined up outside Bridle Path Elementary School.

There were Trump supporters planting signs and Biden supporters giving away stickers, as well as a large table covered with snacks and refreshments for voters. Regardless of party affiliation, voters said that the handling of the Covid crisis and a desire for more unifying behavior and language was key to them. One voter, 22-year-old Ben Hartranft, (below) who has autism, didn’t share his vote, but did share his hope for the next president: “I’m hoping whoever’s President can help people with special needs and disabilities. Everyone is unique.”

Mary Green

One couple, the Boulangers, said they voted a straight Democratic ticket, based on “a general dislike of Trump,” - plus, they disapproved how he handled the Coronavirus, added Mr. Boulanger, 87. We “want somebody honest and reliable,” said Mrs. Boulanger, 69.

Lynn Lin, 60, meanwhile, said she saw plenty of positives in Trump. “He’s a soldier. He’s a really great person. I think he will still fight for the future and make America great again,” she said. “I don’t care about the politics, the issues. He’s the person who really did something. His morals. He’s pro-life. And education.”

Edward Roc, 62, says he voted “Biden, for sanity,” while Fran Morasco voted a straight Republican ticket because “Donald Trump fulfills what he says he’s going to do, as best he can, fighting against the house and the Senate.” If he doesn’t win, what should he do? “I wouldn’t care. Go relax. You did good for four years.”

Biden voter Marissa Reale, 24, (below) said she picked her candidate because "at the forefront is the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Keeping more people alive. Trump has been killing them," she said, adding that she cares about "restoring common decency and respect in the White House and the country and the world.

Mary Green

Doug Johnson, 49, and his son Danny, 19, showed up for Danny’s first time voting (“I’m pretty excited,” Danny said) and both planned to vote for Biden. “I feel like our current President is using his power to divide us, not unite us,” said Doug. “I’m just tired of it. I don’t even agree with all of Biden’s policies. But I do like his approach to being bipartisan.”

Another family turning out together for a first-time voter: Richard Ray and his daughter Tabitha, 18. Both cast ballots for Trump. Tabitha said she was aligned with his anti-abortion stance, while Richard said “I think he deserves four more years to finish and accomplish everything he set out. I do like the fact that he’s outside of that Washington establishment. That’s why I voted for him in 2016, and that’s why he has my vote today.”

Both agreed, however, that finding unity was key no matter who won. “[My friends and I] all respect each other. I think we all realize it’s important if we want our voices heard,” Tabitha said. Her dad concurred: “Everyone has a voice, that’s why we vote. When this election’s over, and someone’s declared the winner, we need to move forward. We are the United States. It’s not all about one party or whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. We need to work together.”

St. Louis, Missouri

A two-hour wait greeted those in line when voting opened at Mann Elementary School on the south side of St. Louis, a Democratic stronghold in a recently reliably-red state due to outstate voters who consistently back Trump. But by mid-morning, voters flowed in and out of the school’s gymnasium in 15 minutes or less, with no problems reported.

Jeff Truesdell

Teacher Rodney Malone, 41, voted a straight Democratic ticket. His wife Gina, 42, a freelance singer, backed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries but cast a Biden vote and touted her enthusiasm for his running mate.

“My vote's for Kamala Harris,” she says. “I love her, but I think the two of them together are really a promising duo.” Why? “I love her persona. I think it's wonderful that, obviously, she's a woman, and then a person of color. She seems to just have a freshness about her, a positivity.”

Says her husband, who voted for the Republican candidate in 2000 and 2004, “Trump's so bad that it hasn't been really even a deliberation in my case. Maybe if there were a Romney or McCain, there'd be some thinking on my part, but in this case with Trump being so pathetic, there's no deliberation or hesitation.”

What propelled his decision? “COVID, international relations, police brutality, tax policy, jeez, name it,” he says. “I've never claimed to be a Democrat in the past, but it's not my fault that the Republicans are wrong on almost everything. We've always claimed to be independents, and we were, but now we can't be.”

Kieran Brown, 34, a web applications programmer, is a first-generation American born to English parents who says “it was pretty clearly Biden over Trump for president this year for me,” despite hailing from what he describes as “very much a cop family.”

“My mother is a dispatcher. My stepfather is an officer. My aunt is an officer. My uncle is a corrections officer. My grandfather was a corrections office,” he says. “A lot of my family right now is in law enforcement, which obviously has been a major factor in this particular election cycle, but also a recent member of the family, my new brother-in-law, is black. That has created some very active discourse at our dinner tables of late -- I shouldn't say dinner tables, it's our Zoom meetings this year, to be more literally true.”

"As an economy, as people, and as a culture, we [are] a lot stronger when we mix ideas and come together. I'd love to move back to being that kind. of a nation."

—Kieran Brown

Though he says he’s not partial to either party, his feelings about immigration policies are what led him to his decision. “Personally, I am a huge believer that we should be welcoming immigrants to this country and growing this country ... and so I've been pretty staunchly opposed to a lot of Republican platforms based on stronger immigration controls,” he says. “As an economy and as people and as a culture, we end up finding ourselves a lot stronger when we mix ideas and come together … I would love to see us move back to being that kind of a nation.”

With COVID imposing restrictions on such travel and other aspects of life, was he concerned about voting in a pandemic?

“A little bit, but I think we have to make decisions, all of us, about acceptable risk,” he says. “It's very difficult to make decisions about what is safer enough or not safe enough for us as individuals and as a society, but not voting seemed more dangerous.”

Jeff Truesdell

Aaloke Mody, 36, (above) is an infectious diseases doctor, and first generation Indian-American, and also felt the rewards outweighed the risks when it came to voting during Covid. “I felt pretty confident if people were wearing masks … that it would be a safe thing to vote,” he says. “I'm kind of coming during a time when I felt the lines would be a little bit less.”

His vote now is “very anti-Trump, but it's also very pro-Biden. There's not like a sitting on the fence for me,” he says. What issues drove him? “Being anti-racist, being anti white supremacy, healthcare -- healthcare is a big one. I'm an HIV physician, so a lot of my patients are kind of low-income and insurance is a big issue. Climate change. Wealth disparities. All the things that sort of progressive candidates support more, and Republican, and particularly Trump, do not.”

Additionally, Mody says, he is happy to have Kamala Harris as a VP, modeling America’s diversity and being a role model for his one-year-old niece. “Having that kind of representation … is very powerful,” he says. “It was just the feeling of being represented in government, in society, and just not feeling different. It's part of integration, it takes some generations for that to happen, I think, for immigrant communities, but it is happening and that's exciting.”

His wife, Ramya Pratiwadi, 33, is a pharmaceutical consultant, and also a first-generation Indian-American. She backed Biden and Harris “because I want anyone but Trump,” but she and her husband also touted the Democratic candidate’s “compassion for humanity.”

The last four years have “been really painful and sad because I really love America,” she said. “I consider myself a patriot, but it's very hard to feel that way when I see the policies and behavior that Trump has enacted and showed over the last four years. … My parents came to New Jersey [from India] in the early ‘70s and I feel like my family has experienced the American dream. So that has contributed to my patriotism. And I love this country, but it's been hard to even say that out loud over the last four years, because that's associated now with nationalism, to a dangerous level.”

-REPORTING BY JEFF TRUESDELL

Monmouth County, New Jersey

"I said to myself, Lord, I hope I vote for the right one. I wrote down his name in my pocket: Joe Biden," says retired certified nurse's assistant Theora Jones, 76 (above, left). "There were so many papers that came with the ballot, and I need assistance, so I came in person."

Explaining why she’s voting for Biden, Jones said, “I like the way Biden talks to the people. I want everything to be all right for this country. I've been living in Middletown for decades. I feel Trump is dangerous for this country.”

She added that she voted for Trump in 2016, “but I wasn't so sure what I was doing then,” she said. “But now I'm voting for my family, for my community, for the betterment of this country. For unity. My daughter's husband passed away, he was in the service. And I have my seven grandkids living with me right now. I want a better future for them.”

Social worker Ashley Goncalves brought her ballot to the relatively quiet polling station, where she told PEOPLE, “It’s a little disconcerting wondering where your ballot is going, which is why why I wanted to come drop it off in person on Election Day.”

"What can I do, in my part, moving forward? How can I leverage my career for the betterment of society?"

—ashley Goncalves

Goncalves' Biden vote was a no-brainer for her: "For me, being a female, plain and simple I don’t believe in the Republican values. I have a right to my own body ... Anyone who is going to advocate for change, and doesn’t want the to keep the country stagnant, that’s who I am voting for."

As a social worker who minored in criminal justice, she is determined to “help bridge the gap between mental illness and law enforcement,” and said that she “like[d] what Biden had to say about prison reform and trying to do whatever we can to change the system."

Ultimately, Goncalves says, "I plan on practicing self-care today. I just got to accept what it will be and try to make the best about what the outcome will be. What can I do, in my part, moving forward? How can I leverage my career for the betterment of society?"

Susan Eisemann, the director of logistics for Rainbow Apparel in Brooklyn, N.Y., took the day off to vote, and plans to “stay up past 9:30 tonight so I can see how this thing goes.”

“I find this to be a very emotionally charged election,” she said. “I hope that everyone gets out today and does the right thing, because this is our future. This is what we have as Americans. You can't complain if you don't come out to vote.”

19-year-old college student Donny Mills echoed Eisemann’s statement, telling PEOPLE, “If you don't get out there and vote you're wasting your right given to you by the Constitution.”

Mills, who did not share who he was voting for “because that's a personal decision,” told PEOPLE that this was his first time voting and said that he’s done his due diligence when it comes to researching both candidates and has been trying to “see it from both ways” and “form my opinion based off that.”

“I tend to agree with my parents’ views. My oldest sister does not. And I think it's good because you have healthy debate. You get arguments on both sides. You have to figure it out on your own,” he said. “You can't let other people impact your decision, because when you do that, you are not voting for yourself.”

He added that he doesn’t judge people based on who they choose to vote for. “You need to find a balance on what issues, to you, are the most important. For people to judge others on how they vote is extremely rude and inconsiderate.”

--REPORTING BY BRITTANY TALARICO

Torrance, California

On Nov. 3, the mostly-empty George Nakano Theater in Torrance, California opened its doors to two to three voters trickling in every 10 minutes or so. While the polling site may not have been bustling with voters, the few who walked in each had their own reasons to cast their vote — even 27-year-old Joey Leyba (above, center), who decided to vote on a whim.

“To be honest, I was just here ... and we're like, ‘You know what, why don't we go vote right now?’ ” Leyba said.

The first-time voter felt confident about his vote against proposition 22 (which classifies app-based contractors as employees) but was less enthusiastic about his Biden vote, saying he’d “rather have the lesser of two evils.”

Harrison Cook, 21, (above, right) also voted for the Democratic nominee although he’s “not the biggest fan of Joe Biden either.” Cook, who changed jobs from an EMT to working in a donut shop during the pandemic, said that he’s more anti-Trump than pro-Biden. He would’ve gladly voted for any of the other Democratic presidential nominees before Biden, but when the former vice president was the last candidate standing, he had no other choice.

“I really didn't want to,” he said. “But here we are, that's life, so what are you going to do?”

For Sam Khosravi, 31, it will be his first time voting for one of the two major party candidates, and his pick is President Donald Trump.

“I voted Libertarian every election prior to this — but, I think, the economy is on track, we're doing better than we were four years ago,” Khosravi said. “Also, I have major distress for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, so it was partially a vote for Trump and a large part a vote against Biden.”

The salesman hopes that voting for Trump will lead to the end of the pandemic and a “return to normalcy.” If Trump loses, he doesn’t “want to sound like a crazy conspiracy nut,” but he wants to “make sure the election results are valid.” However, if the president does lose his reelection “legitimately,” Khosravi is willing to accept his candidate’s defeat graciously.

"I believe in shaking hands with people that disagree with you. I don't want to destroy my relationships because my candidate loses an election."

—sam khosravi

“I believe in shaking hands with people that disagree with you, I don't believe in hating anybody,” he said, adding that he prefers not to vocally support a candidate for fear of alienating others. “I don't want to destroy any of my relationships with my family and friends just because my candidate loses an election.”

However, James Wilson (above, left) has no qualms about sharing his pick for president. The retired 76 year old is voting for Trump.

“I don't like Harris, I don't like Biden,” Wilson said. “I think they're liars, cheaters. I think they'd do anything to get in office. And I don't like socialism, where they're taking the country, I don't like it. That's it.”

When asked what he hopes if Biden wins the presidency, Wilson was straightforward with his answer:

“I’m not going to accept him.”

-REPORTING BY JASON HAHN

Edgewood, Florida

In this Orlando suburb, comprised of several upscale communities on lakes, the voting scene is calm and quiet, with a lone police car parked in front of the polling station.

Photographer Kathleen Overchuck, 48, (below, left) a registered Democrat said she felt in recent years that casting her vote was "more of an obligation" than ever: "Everyone I know feels like, 'I have to vote. It’s too important not to'."

Though she had the opportunity to vote early via absentee ballot, she was determined to go in person to make sure nothing went wrong with her ballot. "I wanted to make sure that my vote did count. But it was scary!" she said. "I was saying to myself, 'Please don’t get into a car accident before you vote on Tuesday!'"

Overchuck said she was passionate about voting herself, and encouraging others to vote, because "this is our one chance, our one opportunity to really be heard. ... We need to make sure that our country is heading in the right direction, and every one of us has the chance to do that."

The Donawa family - Stanphill, 69, Cordelia, 62, and their daughter Diana (above, right) - all showed up in Edgewood to vote for Biden, because "if you don’t vote, you cannot complain."

"I took this very seriously," said Stanphill, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Trinidad. "There are so many people in this world who don’t get to vote, so many places where there isn’t democracy like there is here. There are many countries where the head of state says something, and what he says, goes. And there’s nothing you can do about that. But here, we can speak out for what we think is right. We can vote for the person we want, or things on the ballot, and our voice is heard. Here we have the right to make our own decisions and vote for who we feel is the best candidate."

His vote was determined after closely watching the issues for the past for years. "I paid attention every day," he said. "It’s important to know about the things that affect us: healthcare is important, not just to me, but for the everyone in the country. Can you afford your healthcare? That’s a very important concern and it’s a thing that I was paying close attention to. ... We need some change and we are looking forward to it."

--REPORTING BY STEVE HELLING

Atlanta, Georgia

At Atlanta’s Israel Baptist Church Tuesday, things were quiet and there wasn’t much of a line, to the surprise of Andre Golubic, 49, (above, left) who was in and out in eight minutes to cast his vote for Biden.

Despite the ease of voting, the real estate investor says he has anxiety when it comes to the year ahead. "I am really concerned," he said. "I don't have a tremendous amount of confidence in either one of the parties But I hope to be pleasantly surprised. I'd really like to see a course shift. And a vaccine."

That’s not to say he had a difficult time choosing Biden as his candidate.”I don't like him but at least I don't loathe him,” he says. “I literally get sick to my stomach when I hear [Trump] speak for more than 6 or 7 minutes. I think any vote that is against him is a vote in the right direction.”

He added, “even my 14-year-old finds Trump troubling. Having children you think about future issue, such as Social Security going away." And while this election is a crucial moment in history to Andre, voting has always been second nature to him. "I have always voted. I think it's a principled thing. It's shocking how few people vote.”

"Those voter shaming letters seemed to do the trick. I am here, I voted, my vote matters."

—anonymous

One such voter, who declined to give her name, cast her first-ever vote at the church Tuesday at age 36. “That’s pretty embarrassing," she said " I am educated, I am a professional, there is no excuse. I guess I never felt like my vote counted. I am not sure exactly what changed. There are many issues in our country right now, and I have significant life changes on the horizon. Maybe it has to do with the economy, the pandemic, the social injustice. I mean, so many societal issues have been brought to light."

She added that her fiancé, on the opposite end of the political spectrum, encouraged her to go, and there was one more motivator: “Those voter shaming letters seemed to do the trick. I am here. I voted—my vote matters.”

In Gwinnett County, Sebastian Kidder, 20, stepson to WWE legend Ric Flair, went to the local church early Tuesday morning to miss what he assumed would be a mid-day rush. "I was really nervous; I didn't know what to expect for my first time,” he said. “I was really surprised that there was like no one else in line. I maybe saw three other voters. I told the people working there that it was my first time and they got really excited. They were clapping and saying to others across the room, 'We have another first-time voter here."

He was excited to exercise his civic duty: “When someone asks me about the first time I voted, I want to be able to say I voted the first year I could. I feel proud, that I came here today.”

Maimuna Bey, 40, (above, right) was so committed to voting, she flew in from Abu Dhabi, where she works as a personal trainer, “specifically in time to vote” at Spalding Drive Elementary in Sandy Springs, Ga.

“This year has been a challenging year for many people, and I just felt it was the right thing to do,” she said, noting that several social issues were driving her to the polls, including police brutality: “There is no denying anymore. We have been murdered and mistreated on the streets for so many years and there is no more denying this.”

She said she cast a vote for Biden because it’s “time for a change,” despite some skepticism about either candidate. “I think at the end of the day you have to choose the better of the two and just in general in each area, and I think Joe Biden is the better option.”

Regardless, though, she has hope for 2021. “If we can find a way to unify, we can use our ideas to help build the economy to open back up for our families to survive. I think that 2021 will be a better year, hopefully, to put our differences aside to see what's best for one another.”

-REPORTING BY ELISSA ROSEN

Edited by Alex Apatoff, Diane Cho, Sophie Dodd and Lindy Segal