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Voters excited about record early voting turnout, have mixed feelings about election possibilities

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

CHINA GROVE — With early voting over and Election Day on Tuesday, locals say they’re excited about record turnout so far and have mixed feelings about how the election will play out this week.

By the end of early voting on Saturday, nearly 50% of Rowan County voters had cast a vote at one of the five sites, which amounts to 47,620 votes total. A plurality of those, 13,971, were cast at the South Rowan Public Library in China Grove, while 13,937 were cast at the Rowan County Board of Elections in Salisbury. 

The numbers shattered a record for early voting set in 2016, when 38,233 votes had been cast at early voting locations. With absentee by mail ballots included, turnout so far is even larger — 57,226 votes, or 59.14%.

Across the state, about 4.52 million, or 62%, of registered voters, have already cast a vote for the 2020 election, with 3.59 million votes cast during early voting. By the end of early voting in 2016, 2.96 million votes had been cast in-person.

Some feel optimistic and confident, such as Lori Kennedy, who cast an early vote on Friday at the South Rowan Public Library in China Grove. Kennedy said she’s optimistic the election will result in the right people in office, adding that the world is in a different place right now.

Kennedy said she believes President Donald Trump has handled the pandemic “wonderfully” and “gets a bad rap,” while Gov. Roy Cooper has let North Carolinians down. Kennedy said she cast a vote for Cal Cunningham, the Democrat challenging Sen. Thom Tillis for a seat in the U.S. Senate, because she doesn’t like Tillis’ character.

China Grove voters Freddie and Amy McKnight said they felt confident about the election and that they support Republican candidates because of their accomplishments. Amy said Trump has handled the pandemic as best as he can by allowing governors to make decisions, but she believes COVID-19 has “been blown out of proportion” since it’s an election year. Neither Freddie nor Amy support Cooper’s pandemic response, adding that the lack of “normalcy” has been worse than the virus itself.

As of Friday, North Carolina ranked 10th in the nation for most COVID-19 cases reported over the last seven days, and the latest state data show cases are on the rise in Southeastern states.

China Grove residents Matt and Amanda Armstrong, however, do not hold the same sentiments, particularly as Amanda works in a health care setting, she said.

Both Matt and Amanda said they’re nervous, anxious and hope Cooper keeps his seat as governor. They agree with Cooper’s handling of the virus, but Amanda said she wishes he would’ve enacted a mask mandate earlier on. Amanda also said she recently lost a family member to COVID-19.

Both felt comfortable with the safety precautions taken inside the southern Rowan County library, but they would’ve liked for masks to be required as some voters in line at the library on Friday weren’t armored with face masks.

Both voters said they supported Sen. Carl Ford’s Democratic challenger, Tarsha Ellis, in the state Senate race because their views aligned and because the pair said they believe she would back Cooper while Ford would not.

Meredith Swaim, an 18-year-old West Rowan High School graduate, was among the first-time voters expressing excitement to cast a vote in this election. Swaim said she’s not thrilled about Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden, but added there’s “no way Trump should get re-elected,” adding that he hasn’t handled the pandemic correctly.

Fabiola, 29, and Ariana Amezquita, 31, are sisters who on Friday cast their very first votes at the West End Plaza, located at 1935 W. Jake Alexander Blvd. Both sisters are from Mexico, and this was their first election after becoming U.S. citizens this year.

Both said they were excited to be part of the election process, with the ability to vote for president. But as election day nears, they have mixed feelings.

Other first-time voters include Daityn Bost, 18, and Mya Triplett, 18, who both graduated from Salisbury High School. The pair said they’re feeling nervous and anxious, particularly as they’re tired of Trump and feel the need for a real leader. Mya said she participated in local Black Lives Matter protests in Salisbury, which arose following the death of George Floyd this summer.

Steve Fink, of Salisbury, cast a vote at the West End Plaza on Friday as well and vocalized his support for a straight Republican ticket due to his religious beliefs. He said Trump has “saved millions upon millions” of lives due to his handling of the pandemic, adding that he’s unsure how effective current COVID-19 precautions are since some people don’t adhere to them and further spread the virus.

“I place it in God’s hands,” Fink said, adding that he’d still respect Democrats if they win.

Kim Miller, of Salisbury, shared similar sentiments, saying she has to support candidates who stand with the Bible. She vocalized support for Trump because she doesn’t believe Biden looks well.

“Someday I might get too old for my job,” she said. “I just want someone to help the country.”

Miller added that she was disappointed to see all the money spent on advertisements in which candidates attack each other when the money could be used to address hunger-related and homelessness issues.

Another first-time voter is China Grove resident Kayla Hampton, 18, who previously attended Jesse C. Carson High School but is currently being homeschooled. Hampton said she’s excited but can tell this election is different.

Hampton was accompanied by her parents, Jason and Melissa Martin, who said they view this opportunity as a teaching moment to be part of the system and an active participant. Additionally, Jason said they talked to Hampton about her right to vote and to be tolerant of other people with opposing views.

The family said they support Cooper’s handling of the virus. Jason added that actions are louder than words and that Trump has not led by example, particularly when it comes to wearing masks.

Jason said he has a military background and believes in more support for military members. He and Melissa thought about who to support in the U.S. Senate race, and ultimately decided to support Cunningham because the extramarital affair is the only issue he’s been attacked on.

“Take the mudslinging out,” Jason said.

If there’s one thing local voters agree upon, though, it’s the excitement for the record-breaking early voting turnout and the importance of voting this election.

“I think it’s important for our freedom,” Amy McKnight said.

Lena Sellers, of Granite Quarry, worked as a poll observer on Friday at the West End Plaza site. Poll observers ensure voters don’t have issues when completing or submitting a ballot and help get in touch with the proper resources if there are issues. So far, she hasn’t seen any.

She said the turnout has been wonderful as more people than ever are getting involved this year. No previous elections can compare to this one, she added.

“People are so angry about what they believe,” she said.

Now, voters wishing to cast a vote in-person will only have election day on Nov. 3 to do so. Polls will open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.

Voters who requested absentee ballots and haven’t returned them yet can send them in the mail as long as there is a postmark on or before Election Day, which is Tuesday. Voters can also avoid any worry about an on-time delivery by bringing ballots directly to the Rowan County Board of Elections, 1935 Jake Alexander Blvd. W., Suite D10, in Salisbury. Polls on election day open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. For questions about voting, call the Board of Elections at 704-216-8140.

As of Saturday, Rowan County Board of Elections Director Brenda McCubbins said 9,606 absentee ballots have been accepted, which is more than three times the number of absentee ballots accepted in total for the 2016 election in Rowan County.

To date, North Carolina has accepted 925,671 absentee ballots, which is more than five times the number of absentee ballots accepted at this same time in 2016.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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