How a pandemic, a social movement and two presidential candidates have re-shaped the American voter
Pandemic, protests and politics. Throughout the year 2020, a tumultuous political environment had been observed at home, on screens and on streets across the country. Just two months away from the presidential election, major political parties made their final arguments on what seemed to be “the most important election of our lifetime.”
Diego Martinez, a philosophy major at The University of Texas at El Paso, said he felt indifferent about the 2020 election. But, his feelings about voting, which have evolved with age, weren’t always this way.
It was 2016 when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were both running for president when Martinez voted for the very first time. He knew who to vote for and didn’t think twice about voting, his mother raised him to be sure of himself.
“She knows herself in general when it comes to current events and things like that. And she’s also not afraid to voice her political opinion. So, I think she was definitely a big influence in the sense,” Diego Martinez said.
But, this election is different. This election cycle, he calls electoral politics a facade and says that he wouldn’t put his name on the line voting for either Donald Trump or Joe Biden.
“That would be an insult to my name to put it along with one of these two people. That’s disgusting. Either one of those,” Diego Martinez said. “It’s repulsive to me.”
Diego Martinez is just one of many individuals who felt conflicted about the two nominees running for the presidency in 2020.
Texas Young Democrats, like Texas Rising, is an organization with different chapters across the state. The progressive young group works to not only elect Democrats to office, but also influence public policy protests, organize events and make sure young voters are engaged in the political process at the national and local level.
J.J. Martinez, president of El Paso Young Democrats, said he acknowledges the hesitation some voters have encountered in the midst of the controversy surrounding both Trump and Biden. However, voting is the only way to create true change, according to JJ Martinez.
“It’s not about voting for the candidate that you believe agrees with you 100 percent, because there is no candidate, whether it’s Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Donald Trump, Mike Pence. None of them will ever agree with you 100 percent,” Martinez said. “It’s about voting for the candidate that you know is best going to further your values.”
For this election, the candidates had to address concerns that have arisen amid the Black Lives Matter movement, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, making this election season one of the most important in recent history.
“We always say, right, ‘this election is the most important election of our lifetimes.’ And I don’t think anybody’s really meant it until this election,” Martinez said. “This election is the most important election of our lifetimes, because everything, the fabric of our society, the fabric of our democracy and even the fabric of our city and what we can do in our potential; all of that is at stake, and it matters.”
Amid the health precautions the city has implemented due to COVID-19 , the organization also took a different approach to promote voter participation. Young Democrats used its social media platforms to host public forums that deal with topics such as voter registration and the voting process.
“The pandemic has really changed a lot of our organizing. I think all organizations understand that this is a lot harder than it would be, if we were able to do things normally,” Martinez said. “I know our organization and a lot of other local organizations have found different ways, and sometimes even more effective ways, of reaching people. So we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing; keep spreading information, keep encouraging people to work the polls if they’re able to, and then of course, encouraging them to early vote and then vote on election day.”
Carla Rodriguez, a deputy field organizer at the local Texas Rising chapter at UTEP, had to adjust to safety guidelines amid the pandemic, as she worked to reach out and register as many El Pasoans as possible.
“I think we’re slowly turning around, I would say, with our voter turnout,” Rodriguez said. “Right now, I’m phone banking and I think this is the least effective way to get people to like just make sure that they’re registered and to get in contact with them, just because I know that just calling people seems a little spammy.”
The method allowed citizens to verify they were registered to vote; and provided a pathway for citizens who were not registered.
“I feel like people respond better to text messaging and to links in a text message so that constituents can click on the link and make sure that they’re registered and see where they can go vote; or if they have any questions they can ask you,” Rodriguez said.
In the midst of the uncertainty surrounding election ballots, election dates and even COVID-19 health precautions, it’s not a surprise El Paso voters had questions.
“In my personal opinion, I think that the November election, which is the general election, is like probably the most crucial,” Rodriguez said. “Not only because we vote for the president, but because we also get to vote for local leaders in the community and that is one thing I really want to enforce because a lot of people have lost faith in electoral politics regarding picking our president.”
In past years, El Paso’s voter turnout hasn’t been great. But, Rodriguez stayed hopeful that it would change.
“I definitely don’t want people or our community members to lose hope and feel like their vote doesn’t count. I feel like it counts more than ever when it comes to community-based politics and community organizing because the real change starts in your community and we have more power in the local context, in the local capacity,” Rodriguez said.
After votes were counted, El Paso showed up and showed out, setting new voting records that made local history. According to the El Paso County Election Department, 46%, or 222,149 citizens, of the city’s 487,942 registered voters participated in the 2020 General Election early voting period. During the 2016 election, 427,850 El Pasoans were registered to vote, with only 35%, or 153,301, of votes cast early.
On Nov. 3, in total, the city’s election department announced 256,182 El Pasoans cast a ballot in the 2020 election. The number surpassed all previous presidential elections.
“This election is the most important election of our lifetimes, because everything, the fabric of our society, the fabric of our democracy and even the fabric of our city and what we can do in our potential; all of that is at stake, and it matters.” J.J. Martinez
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, precautions had to be taken, especially as the number of positive cases in El Paso raised. Voters across El Paso poll stations, received a bag with a finger cot, sanitizing pads, a cotton swab and an “I voted” sticker.
El Paso County Clerk and Recorder offered express curbside voting to voters who were “physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.”
Although the election results in El Paso and Texas were predicted only hours after the polls closed, across the United States, some states took days before a clear presidential candidate was predicted the winner.
Such was the case for Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada, three of the key states needed for Trump or Biden to win. On Nov. 7, major media outlets like Associated Press, Politico and The New York Times, declared Biden the predicted winner, after having led in the three states.
With Biden set to take office as the 46th president of the U.S., UTEP political science professor, Todd Curry hopes that in the next four years the current state of the world and our nation, changes.
“I hope we’re not talking about an immigration policy the same way it is now. I hope we’re not talking about police reform, I hope we’re not talking about gun violence in schools, I hope in four years we’re not talking about the pandemic anymore. I hope all of those things are not an issue,” Curry said.
One of the questions he asks is whether or not the Republican party will continue to elect nominees who are far right and “resonate so little” with the voters of today.
“No one in their right minds right now is running to the polls because Joe Biden is driving them there, because he is such an eccentric candidate who makes you feel like you have to vote for him,” Curry said. “No, they’re voting against Donald Trump.”
He knows from research that because a person votes once, they’re more likely to vote again in the future and more than likely, the U.S. will see a large voter turnout in the next presidential election.
“We’re gonna have a boring four years. And I think all of us would be perfectly fine with having a boring and four years,” Curry said. “I’ve been involved in politics long enough, study politics long enough, where I, now, after the past four years, I long for boring. Like, boring sounds great.” So, he keeps an eye on the future.
“I want substantive policy change, I want it a whole lot but I also want to wake up in the morning and not worry what the president did last night. I long for a return to where I can hate politicians the normal amount that I always used to hate them,” Curry said.
For JJ Martinez, the responsibility to continue striving to elect ideal candidates to serve Americans will be at the forefront of every election from now on.
“All of us have to make sure that we play a role in changing our country for the better, and making sure that we survive, and making sure that we elect people that at the very least are going to listen and are going to care about every single American,” Martinez said.
By Anahy Diaz and Brandy Ruiz
Por Maria Ramos Pacheco
La pandemia del COVID-19, protestas y política. Durante el año 2020, se ha observado desde casa, las redes sociales y en las calles del país un clima político tenso. Las elecciones generales de este año se han nombrado “las elecciones más importantes de nuestra vida.”
Diego Martinez, estudiante de filosofía en la Universidad de Texas en El Paso (UTEP), dice que se siente indiferente acerca de las elecciones del 2020. Pero sus forma de votar a cambiado durante los años, no siempre se sintió así en una elección general.
En las elecciones del 2016, donde Donald Trump y Hilary Clinton estaban en la boleta para presidentes, Martinez estaba votando por primera vez. El se sentía seguro de a quien darle su voto. Pero en estas elecciones, es diferente. Se rehuso a poner su nombre enseguida de alguno de los dos candidatos, el ex Vicepresidente Joe Biden y el ex- presidente Donald Trump.
“Eso seria un insulto, el poner mi nombre enseguida de alguno de estas dos personas. Es asqueroso. Ninguno de ellos dos, es asqueroso”, Martinez dice. “Es repulsivo para mi.”
Martinez es solo uno más de lxs votantes que no ejercieron su voto por el hecho de que ninguno de los candidatos a la presidencia les parecía apto para ganar La Casa Blanca.
Sin embargo, organizaciones a nivel nacional y estatal se prepararon para invitar a personas jóvenes a participar en la democracia del país. Por ejemplo, Texas Young Democrats y Texas Rising son dos grupos que se encargan de elegir demócratas para ocupar cargos públicos. Al igual promueven la el privilegio de votar entre lxs jóvenes a nivel nacional y local.
J.J. Martinez, Presidente de El Paso Young Democrats, dice que es normal que muchxs votantes no quieran votar en estas elecciones. Pero dice que votando es la única forma de crear un cambio verdadero.
“No se trata de votar por el candidato que esta de acuerdo contigo cien por ciento, por que no existe ese candidato. Ya se Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Donald Trump, Mike Pence. Ninguno de ellxs va a estar de acuerdo cien por ciento contigo”, J.J. Martinez dice. “Se trata de votar por el candidato que es promueve mejor tus valores.”
Con tantas cosas en juego en estas elecciones, votar se convirtió en los últimos dos meses antes del día de elección, el 3 de noviembre un asunto de prioridad.
“Esta elección es la mas importante de nuestras vidas, porque todo, el tejido de nuestra democracia e incluso el tejido de nuestra ciudad y lo que podemos hacer en nuestro potencial; todo eso está en juego, y es importante”, J.J. Martinez dice.
Aun con la pandemia de por medio, la ciudad implemento precauciones y restricciones en lxs ciudadanxs para evitar la propagación de contagio de COVID-19. Esto orillo a organizaciones a promover la participación ciudadana en las elecciones de una forma diferente. Young Democrats usaron sus redes sociales para informar a lxs votantes de como registrarse para votar y todo tipo de información relacionada a las elecciones.
“La pandemia de verdad cambio mucho nuestra organización. Creo que todas las organizaciones entiendes que es mucho mas difícil hacer las cosas asi”, J.J. Martinez dice. “Pero no importa nosotros vamos a seguir haciendo lo que hacemos, informar a la gente, seguir alentando a la gente que trabajen en las casillas y claro que la gente vote en el periodo de votación temprana y el dia de la elección.”
Estas elecciones fueron historicas debido a la participación de votantes en la ciudad y el condado de El Paso. Según el Departamento de Elección de El Condado de El Paso, 46% o 222,149 ciudadanxs registrados para votar, votaron en el periodo de votación temprana. En noviembre 3, el día de las elecciones el departamento de la ciudad anuncio que 256,182 personas votaron. Este numero sobrepasa el record de votantes de las previas elecciones presidenciales.
Aunque estas elecciones y el año 2020 fue de cambios inesperados sobre todo por la pandemia, lxs ciudadanxs ejercieron su voto. Unxs por correo, otrxs en el periodo de votación temprano, otrxs el día de las elecciones eso si, con sus cubrebocas, manteniéndose seis pies aparte de los otros votantes.