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The Voices Of Florida's Early Voters

Mar 17, 2020

Students in the Political News Reporting class at the University of South Florida were sent into the field to ask early voters in the Tampa Bay area, what issues are driving you to vote?

Neida Mitchell (left) and Noble Evans

Neida Mitchell (left), 41, went out to vote with her son, a first-time voter, Noble Evans (right), 18. They voted at the Temple Terrace Library polling site.

“It's just feels like I'm taking the right step forward,” Evans says. “Helping out with what I can as, as a voter, as a young voter, to get the right person to office.”

Mitchell, after taking photos of her son receiving his first ballot, said she had to really think about who would get her vote.

“Well, I went back and forth for a little bit,” Mitchell said. “But I think maybe just as recently as probably a couple of days ago, I finally had my mind set on who I was going to vote for.”

Sayed Peerzada

Sayed Peerzada, 55, who voted at the Robert L. Gilder Elections Service Center in Tampa.

“Health care is my main issue this election. I voted for Bernie, but I don’t know about supporting the eventual nominee. The other guy is all about beating Trump, not what he believes in.”

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Samantha Farr

Samantha Farr, 26, was happy to be able to vote this election cycle. She voted at the Temple Terrace Library polling site.

“Last time the election came around, I never got the chance,” Farr said. “ I wasn't registered. I was still new to the state, and I knew that this time, even a couple of people doing it, can always make a difference.”

Farr, with the help of her friends, was able to come and out and have her voice heard.

“My friend helped me get here, but he was like, ‘Are you going to vote this year?’ (so, I said,) ‘I've been trying to,’” Farr said. “I wanted to vote for who I wanted to vote for a while now.”

Patricia Carroll, 59, voted at Providence West Community Center in Tampa.

“My most important issue is getting the right candidate in to beat Trump. I made my decision after Super Tuesday to see if my first choice would still be in the running.”

(She asked not to be photographed.)

Chelsea Coombes

Chelsea Coombes, 27, came to vote early for two specific issues. She voted at the Temple Terrace Library polling site.

“Definitely climate change… I graduated environmental studies with advocacy for social justice. So that's kind of a big issue for me,” Coombes said. “ I feel like we don't pay enough attention to climate change, and the attention that we are paying is more of just kind of like talking about it, but we're not really taking any action.”

Coombes also felt health care was another big topic issue that is important to this election.

“Public health is a big issue, specifically insurance,” Coombes said. “I think there's a huge gap in who's getting insurance and who's not.”

Christian Thompson

Christian Thompson, 23, voted at Robert L. Gilder Elections Service Center.

“My most important issue with this election is the clarity that the candidates for president have. I don’t agree that everyone has clarity.”

Delores Lyon

Former educator Delores Lyon, 76, is a frequent early voter. She voted at the Temple Terrace Library polling site.

“Well, I think this, this election is probably the most important election in my lifetime so far,” Lyons said. “I first early voted the second year or third year that they had it available. And then when I realized how convenient it was that I just kept doing it.”

Lyons talked about issues like health care and education, but another big factor for her was beating the incumbent President in the general election.

“I want to beat Donald Trump…I just think that he has done more to divide this nation than anything I've ever witnessed,” Lyons said. “I first got involved in politics, actually it was after Kennedy's death…that (when I) was aware of the importance of the presidency and everything…during that election.”

Laura Gomez, 59, came out to vote for the incumbent President Donald Trump. She voted at the Temple Terrace Library polling site.

“I'm making sure that the country is on the right path.” Gomez said.

For Gomez, it was no question on who she was voting for.

“I decided for Donald Trump from the beginning. Since I voted for him last year,” Gomez said. “He's been doing what he said he was going to do.”

Patricia Pfister (left) and Hapi McKenzie

Patricia Pfister (left), 66, and Hapi McKenzie, 72, make up the duo “The Crabgrass Cowboys” and have been married for 23 years. They voted at the Temple Terrace Library.

They said things such as social security, the environment and securing children’s futures are the things most important to them.

And for them, deciding who to vote for was not a hard pick.

“I’ve had my choice since the last election” McKenzie said.

Tina Carter-Pearson, 58, voted at the Robert L. Gilder Elections Service Center.

“I didn’t want to vote too early because I was waiting to see who would drop out first before making my decision on who to vote for. I wanted to wait. I will support whoever the nominee is.”

(Carter-Pearson asked to not be photographed.)

Kathleen Romualdo, 27, was interviewed over the telephone.

“My most important issue is immigration. As an immigrant myself and also an American citizen, I understand both sides, but I believe we must show compassion for those risking their lives to come here.”

David McCallister

David McCallister, 66, lawyer, voted at Temple Terrace Public Library:

“The economy is my most important issue because the business of America is business. We need to keep America chugging along. It affects everything else.”

“I have known who I will be voting for since the election of Donald Trump.”

“I am for a minimum adherence to Roe v. Wade. What I am for, is legislation protecting the rights of unborn children. I think that [the Heartbeat Bill] might be a little too early.”

Sofia Aguilar, 18, a USF student who voted on campus:

Sofia Aguilar

“Medicare for all is sustainable. I think a lot of other countries are doing that. But I think it’s hard, and the government has to be on top of it,” Aguilar said.

As an advocate for affordable health care, Aguilar wanted to vote for a candidate with a similar mindset. Bernie Sanders appealed to her in the debates, and she believes that he can make a difference for immigrant families like hers.

“My parents are from Honduras, and they always talk about how back home, there’s free health care,” Aguilar said.

Ashley Olmsted, 24, of Bradenton, who voted in Manatee County:

“I voted for Biden because Buttigieg dropped out. I feel Biden is more capable to hear what Republicans would want versus Sanders who would totally just ignore them in my opinion.”

“If Sanders were to win the nomination, I’m almost sure I would vote for Trump again.”

Florence Hagin

Florence Hagin, 73, voted at the Temple Terrace Public Library:

“[I voted for] Trump just because he’s getting things done, and he, you know, he’s a little bit crass but he knows how to do it, in my opinion,” she said. Her top issues? “There are so many, but I would say social security and benefits.”

Meredith Donovan, 19, voted at the Temple Terrace Public Library:

“I am very enthusiastic that I voted for Bernie Sanders.  Climate change, healthcare and the education system need lots of reform on all fronts and needs to be reevaluated. I definitely feel like this election period and presidency would be the make or break for all of these things.”

Gordon McClung, 62:

“We’ve got to get Trump out of office,” McClung said. “I made my decision about five minutes ago. It was down to two choices. I voted for Biden.”

Tanikee McNeal

Tanikee McNeal, 43:

“Our young people are aggressive about [climate change], and from what I can tell about who follows [Sanders], it’s our young people,” McNeal said. “I feel like if our young people are passionate about it, and they’re passionate about [Sanders], then maybe we can get something done.”

Nicholas Stewart

Nicholas Stewart, 21, a USF student who voted on campus:

Heading into USF TECO Hall to vote in the Democratic primary, Nicholas Stewart knew he wanted to choose a candidate willing to champion for marginalized communities.

“My identity intersects with a lot of the issues that are targeted against my communities, as I am a black, gay, male, college student,” he said.

Stewart voted for Bernie Sanders, who he believes can eliminate social injustice and biases present in the United States.

Amani Taha, 22, voted in Temple Terrace:

“I voted for Bernie Sanders and my most important issue is foreign policy. I love his record; his opinions haven’t changed. I love that he acknowledges Palestinians as human beings who deserve rights, it seems obvious, but no other big politician says that.”

Julie McClung, 61, voted at the Temple Terrace Public Library:

McClung said several issues drove her to the polls. “For one is to get Trump out of office,” she said. “Next is healthcare, environment. So, Trump out, healthcare and then environment.”

“I like Bernie,” she said. “I think Biden, though, can beat Trump. I don’t know if Sanders can do it. I think that Biden can pull some of the Republicans who aren’t fond of Trump. [I’m] hoping he picks a good vice president.”

Paige McNeal, 18, voted at the Temple Terrace Public Library:

Her most important issues “would be immigration, the legalization of marijuana and prisoners being able to vote,” she said.

McNeal was especially emboldened by the public discussion around marijuana. “It makes me feel like there could be a change,” she said. “It would take further actions and all of the requirements to legalize it, but I feel like it could work one day.

“I voted for Bernie Sanders because I feel like he has all the same views I have,” she said, “and I feel like that’s the candidate who can change our regulations.”

Natalie Mara, 18, a USF student who voted on campus:

First-time voter Natalie Mara listed abortion rights, health care and climate change as her key topics of concern in politics.

Although she voted for Bernie Sanders, she says she will be supportive of the democratic nominee regardless of who the chosen candidate is.

“A Green Party candidate would even be great right now, but there’s no realistic chance that he will beat Trump, you just can’t keep him in office,” she said.

Yasmina Alahmad

Yasmina Alahmad, 22, a USF graduate student:

“I voted for Bernie Sanders in this election. I am super enthusiastic about my vote. He was my choice when I was first eligible to vote in 2016, and he is my first choice for my second primary election I have voted in.”

“If Sanders does not win the presidency, I will try to support the winning candidate. I am not too fond of the current president. However, this is my country, and I have to live here, so eventually I’ll get over it, but I don’t think I’ll fully support whomever it is.”

USF Political News Reporting students Kaylen Alvarez, Victor Arriaga, Nicholas Cousineau, Natalie Hernesman, Emma Oliver and Evelyn McCullough contributed to this report.