Voter photo

Voters walk into St. Joseph Catholic Church, on June 30 to vote in the primary elections. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

As the country prepares for the upcoming 2020 general election, many voters are already casting their votes for president.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to record-high numbers of early voters, as more than 22 million voters have already submitted their ballots for the Nov. 3 election, according to The Associated Press, with voters opting to participate in early in-person voting or via absentee mail-in ballots. The Cleveland County Election Board reported last week that the number of registered voters in the county has risen to record-high numbers.

In our ongoing "Pulse of the Voters" series, The Transcript spoke with five local residents to determine if they have made a decision between voting for President Donald Trump or Democratic nominee Joe Biden, and what key issues are most important to them in determining their vote.

Making a decision

All five residents interviewed already decided on a candidate, and four of the five had already cast their votes. 

Pete Pickens, graduate student at OU and a registered Democrat, requested an absentee-mail ballot last month and voted for Biden. Pickens said 2020 marks his first election to vote in, and he made his decision to vote for Biden a few months ago. 

“I knew I was going to vote for Joe Biden when he ended up being the last Democratic candidate for president,” Pickens said. “Before that, I would’ve voted for Bernie Sanders. ... Even if Trump had [changed overnight], I don’t think that would’ve changed my mind because he hasn’t really proven himself to be a trustworthy political figure.”

Stacey Wright, a registered Democrat, requested an absentee mail-in ballot earlier this month and also cast her vote for Biden. Wright said she never considered voting for Trump, and decided to vote for Biden once he secured the nomination.

“There was no question for me that I was going to vote for whoever was running against Trump,” Wright said. “I didn’t have a preference [on a Democratic candidate]; I really wanted to see a woman on the ticket, so the fact that Harris was Biden’s VP pick was important to me. I think she’s incredibly qualified, and we need some leadership in this country.”

Sonya Grob, a registered Republican, said she voted for Trump last month and also voted for him in 2016. Grob said she decided to vote for Trump once Biden secured the nomination, but she would’ve considered voting for the Democratic nominee if the party had nominated a better candidate.

“I don’t care if somebody is Republican or Democrat; if they’re the best person for the job, I’m going to vote for them,” Grob said. “I’m not a [voter that says], ‘Oh, I’m a Republican, so I have to vote for Republican.’ I don’t play that game.

“There’s a lot of times (Trump) needs to shut his mouth and stop talking and stop tweeting,” Grob said. “Had the Democrats come up with a better person than Biden, I would’ve gone the other way. But once Biden [got the nomination], it was determined that I wasn’t going to vote for him.”

Rusty Loeffler, a registered Republican, has not voted yet, but said he will vote for Trump as he did in 2016. Loeffler said he supports Trump because of his platform and policies. 

“I’ll be voting for President Trump because of the policies he stands for,” Loeffler said. “I don’t look so much at the person who’s running, but the platform they explain to us citizens that they’re going to stand for." 

Michael Lombardi, a registered independent, said he is a conservative but voted for Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen last month. Lombardi, who voted for Trump in 2016, said he decided months ago that he would not vote for Trump this year.

“I never considered voting for Trump. I can’t stomach the things that come out of his mouth,” Lombardi said. “Everything he says is bad. I’m not one of these Never Trumpers; I voted for him (in 2016). He had an opportunity, but he can’t tell a straight story. I probably did consider voting for Biden, but a lot of people who I respect are just so against Biden — I’m not — but they are so against him, and I don’t really support him or (Vice Presidential nominee) Kamala Harris. So just for the sake of voting, I voted for [Jorgensen]."

Key issues

While there was some overlap on the subjects that were important to voters, each resident had their own key issues that helped them decide their vote. 

Grob said immigration was a key issue for her, and her views are consistent with Trump’s views on the subject.

“I think that, yes, we should allow immigrants. However, they should come legally,” Grob said. “My grandfather came legally from Lebanon, and I expect everybody else to come legally. Then once you’re here, I expect you to learn English. The immigrants back then learned English to be able to fit into the areas where they were.”

Loeffler said there were four major issues that helped make his decision to support Trump’s reelection campaign: trade, immigration, fiscal policies and taxes. Loeffler also said he believes Trump has kept the promises he made during his campaign in 2016.

“I think he’s done a lot of the things he said he was going to do,” Loeffler said. “He has a very brash way of going about it, but like I said, I didn’t vote for a person, I voted for the policies that [Trump] said [he] would defend and put into process, and I believe he’s done that to the best of his abilities."

In addition to COVID-19 and climate change, Pickens said education and academic funding were key reasons why he voted for Biden. 

“I’m biased in that sense because I work at a financial institution, and I plan on having a career in science, which is typically funded by grants from the federal government,” Pickens said. “Joe Biden seems to be more in favor of increasing funding for academic research and pushing that forward.” 

Wright, who recently lost her job due to COVID-19’s impact on the economy, said the pandemic was the key issue for her. Wright said she believes a Biden administration would better handle the pandemic than the Trump administration.

Wright also criminal justice reform and climate change also were key issues for her. 

“The pandemic is certainly at the top of my list,” Wright said. “I think the failures of this administration’s leadership obviously has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, so that’s a top priority for me. … We have failed in handling the pandemic. It’s embarrassing the way we've handled it compared to other countries around the world."

Lombardi said his decision to vote third-party is largely due to the increasing polarization between the two major political parties. Lombardi said he voted against the incumbent in nearly every race, and he is looking for the elected officials in charge to strive for better communication and bipartisanship.

Lombardi said the discussions surrounding health care was a major example of the harm that the political polarization is having on the country.

“Why are we even debating pre-existing conditions? Other countries that don’t have the economy we have managed to do it,” Lombardi said. “I can afford the health care I want, but what about the people who can’t? National health care is not a bad thing, it’s a great thing. We shouldn’t be debating, ‘Should we have it?’ We should be debating, ‘How do we get it?’ But they don’t talk to each other. The polarization is so bad.” 

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