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In a Nation Divided, One Area of Agreement: Voting Matters

They had been assured that they were wasting their time. That the fix was in. That a fair outcome was impossible, what with all that Democratic ballot-rigging — or was it Republican voter suppression?


But millions of Americans gave voting a go anyway on Tuesday, dutifully turning up across the country to cast ballots at schoolhouses, libraries and V.F.W. posts.



After a campaign marked by the direst of claims, it was, in its way, a small act of faith.


“It’s going a little bit too far left,” said one voter, Lucas Boyd, 43, explaining what had brought him to a polling place in Haymarket, Va. “We are trying to bring it back to a middle ground, and that is really why I came today.”


Cheryl Arnold, who was also casting a ballot in Haymarket, had a different outcome in mind. A sales worker in her 50s, she said her aim was “not furthering the Republican agenda.”


But she and Mr. Boyd, a software salesman, shared at least one fundamental belief: that voting might make a difference.


“I want to do everything I can to use my voice to create the kind of democracy that deserves to exist,” Ms. Arnold said.


Still, it was an Election Day of unusual tensions, in keeping with a campaign in which accusations of voting fraud were sometimes cast even before the ballots themselves were, and in which some private citizens took it upon themselves to take up arms and “guard” absentee ballot boxes.


“I definitely know where the exits are,” said one poll worker in Flagstaff, Ariz., Brittany Montague. “Now more than ever, we’re so polarized, and there isn’t a lot of trust in the system.”


In Arizona on Tuesday morning, reports of dozens of malfunctioning ballot-counting machines in Maricopa County prompted a surge of voter fraud claims across right-wing media.


“None of this indicates any fraud,” said Bill Gates, chairman of the Maricopa County board of supervisors, a Republican. “This is a technical issue.”


A video captured election workers trying to reassure voters.


“No one’s trying to deceive anybody,” one poll worker says.


“No, not on Election Day. No, that would never happen,” the person recording the video replies sarcastically.


Even before the day began, more than 40 million Americans had cast early ballots, and millions more were joining them on Tuesday.


In Michigan, the abortion issue was a big draw at the polls. After the Supreme Court decision reversing Roe v. Wade, Michigan was one of five states that had abortion-related measures on the ballot. In Birmingham, an affluent community outside Detroit, a slow stream of people turned out to vote on Proposal 3, a ballot measure to protect abortion rights.


Outside the Baldwin Public Library, where Birmingham city workers had turned metered parking into “voter-only parking” for the day, Alexandra Ayaub said supporting the measure was her main reason for voting.


“Michigan should be a safe place for women,” said Ms. Ayaub, 31, who described herself as leaning Democratic.


In nearby Warren, Rosemary Sobol also said the initiative was her main motivation for voting — even if she was still undecided.


“I’m not completely anti-abortion, but I’m also a Catholic,” said Ms. Sobol, an 81-year-old retired principal. “It’s a very hard decision.”


For some voters, it was a day to reconsider past positions.


Andrew O’Connell said that he had been born into a Democratic family and that he had long taken pride in switching up his votes between the parties, but at 6:30 Tuesday morning, he could be seen standing outside a busy polling location on Staten Island holding a sign displaying all of the Republicans on the ballot. Everything changed with the social unrest in 2020, he said.


“I believe safety took a back seat back when the protests were going on,” Mr. O’Connell said. “We sat back and watched that happen and some folks didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.”


For other voters, it was a day to reconsider life choices — like where to live.


When Albert Latta, 67, left a polling place in Kenosha, Wis., he had a weary look. The most important issue for him in this election? “Honesty,” he said.


Mr. Latta said that he had voted Democratic in the races for governor and the Senate and that he was so tired of deception from Republicans — on election integrity, among other issues, he said — that he was considering picking up and moving across the state line into the blue of Illinois.


“How Wisconsin goes in this election may have a lot to do with that decision,” he said. “I call today’s vote the biggest I.Q. test this country has ever taken.”


For some voters, a hop across state lines, it appeared, might not do the trick.


In the city of Folsom, in one of liberal California’s more conservative regions, John Butruce, 66, offered a fairly succinct synopsis of his take on things before casting his ballot.


“I don’t like the taxes, I don’t like the inflation, I don’t like the crime,” Mr. Butruce said. “I don’t like the state of the country or the state of the state.”


In Kenosha, where voters were deciding whether to re-elect Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, the shadow of the demonstrations and riots that tore through the city in August 2020 after a police shooting loomed large.


“I just want to get him out,” said Abraham Gloria, 40. “He could have stopped what happened with the riots, and he didn’t.”


But as she headed into a church in Kenosha to vote, Phyllis Sheets, 60, said she was supporting the Democrats. Democracy, she said, depended on it.


“I’m tired of people co-signing foolishness,” Ms. Sheets said. “It’s like people are drinking the silly juice around here: conspiracy theories, not conceding elections, QAnon, Jan. 6. It’s not American.”


Not everyone was thinking about this election, even as it was still unfolding. They were too busy talking about the next one, and news of a “very big announcement” from a Republican politician in Florida.


In Warren, Mich., Mike Smith, 58, had just one quibble.


“I hope he comes back sooner than 2024,” Mr. Smith said. “I still don’t accept 2020.”


Word that Donald J. Trump might soon make formal what has long been expected played out at polling sites across a polarized country to a mix of elation and fear.


“I am terrified,” said Liz Lambert, 57, a marketing manager in Scottsdale, Ariz., clutching a coffee cup as she headed to work after casting her ballot. “This country has been through enough. We need stability and maturity and leadership.”


In Haymarket, Va., Gloria Ugbaja declined to get engaged by a possible Trump announcement about another run for president.


“I thought it was a distraction,” said Ms. Ugbaja, 47, who works in health care management.


“Whether he announces or not is his business,” she said. “Every American has to keep moving forward. Whether he tries to run or not, it indirectly does not affect what the average American has to do on a daily basis.”

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