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Your Voice Ohio is a collaborative effort to produce more relevant, powerful journalism based on the needs and ambitions of Ohioans and Ohio communities. Your Voice Ohio is an initiative of WYSO and more than 30 news organizations across Ohio.

Across The Partisan Divide In Ohio, Some Voters Hope For Unity And Leadership

Jo Ingles
Statehouse News Bureau

After another weekend of long lines for early voting, Tuesday is Election Day. And in this year of heightened anxiety, polarization and pandemic what’s driving Ohio voters as they head to the polls? WYSO News put that question to veteran Akron Beacon Journal reporter Amanda Garrett, who listened to almost a dozen hours of unrecorded conversations with dozens of voters statewide and across the political divide. Garrett says, regardless of their political affiliation, the voters in these intimate forums all expressed hope for common ground and a president who could bring the country together. At the same time, many admitted to steering clear of people in their communities who they knew had opposing political views.

Below is a transcript of their conversation, edited for length and clarity:

AG: And there was a woman there, she's a retired schoolteacher. And I love that she said this, too because I think we all secretly do this. She said when the yard signs started going up in her neighborhood and she would drive by, she would take mental notes of who had what signs. And then she said something like, I was being very judgy. And I think we're all making those judgments when we see those signs go up in the yards of people we know.

Q You also heard from less-engaged voters, too, right? What jumped out to you among people in this category?

AG: There are so many people who are struggling so much to keep their families safe, to keep them fed, to keep them housed, that they are disconnected from politics altogether. There's no time, there's no energy for that to fit on their radar screens, so they stay disconnected. Where others might think that who's in office could really impact their lives, they didn't necessarily see that.

Q How did that compare to the more passionate voters whose minds are made up?

AG: There were two college-age students. They were both going to vote for Biden. One, he said he came from a very right-leaning family and was in an interracial relationship. He's a white man and just couldn’t wrap his head around why anyone would support Trump. And the other college student was a young Black woman who told the story of a day or two after Trump being elected. Friends, people she knew came up to her and said things like, are you going to go back to your country now? And she was so blown away by that, that she's become very motivated this election not only to vote, but to help turn out the vote. We also had a Trump voter who thinks his whole county will vote for Trump again because they've supported Republicans forever. But he pointed out that just because people are voting for Trump doesn't mean they support everything he does or even like him.

Q And recent polls show the pandemic is the number-one issue on the minds of many Ohio voters. Did that come up at all?

AG: In Northeast Ohio, the group there was very focused on COVID. And there was a woman who described herself as a conservative Christian, but she said this year she could not vote for Trump because she thought he violated her values. And she said, I don't want someone who's going to tell me it's going to be OK. I want someone who knows how to make it OK. And I think that overarching sentiment was involved in many of these conversations. And the voters are trying to offer each other comfort even though they were looking for leadership that could get the job done. So we had a great mix of people. We had a Quaker man who is voting for Biden and was especially surprised to talk to an undecided voter because he didn't think there was anyone out there who is left is undecided. The undecided voters that are still out there, I think are really important. And it's so interesting that both sides are fighting for every single voter.

Q: Do you have any sense at all of how Ohio may vote in the end in terms of who will win the White House? You know, if you are able to make a projection right now, do you have one?

AG: I have no projection. And that is considering the interviews from Your Voice Ohio, that is looking at the polls, that is the whole kit and caboodle. I do not have a projection. It's not necessarily the polls. It's what people tell the polls. So we really don't know. And people are going to have to be patient because these are going to be days like we haven't probably ever experienced before. But it will happen. And then we're going to have to figure out, no matter who wins, how we as a nation are going to move forward and build those bridges again.

Jess Mador comes to WYSO from Knoxville NPR-station WUOT, where she created an interactive multimedia health storytelling project called TruckBeat, one of 15 projects around the country participating in AIR's Localore: #Finding America initiative. Before TruckBeat, Jess was an independent public radio journalist based in Minneapolis. She’s also worked as a staff reporter and producer at Minnesota Public Radio in the Twin Cities, and produced audio, video and web stories for a variety of other news outlets, including NPR News, APM, and PBS television stations. She has a Master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. She loves making documentaries and telling stories at the intersection of journalism, digital and social media.