It’s 7:00 am at Miami City Hall, where the polls are opening for the first day of early voting in the 2020 presidential election. There is already a line of ballot-casters that goes all the way to the sidewalk from the building entrance, a distance of about a hundred feet. For weeks now, Joe Biden has consistently emphasized that voter turnout is key for his victory, and he has recently organized a “voter mobilization” event in Miramar, just outside the city.
One of the early birds heeding his advice is Pamela, a long-time Miami resident who usually votes in person on election day, but decided to vote early for the first time “so [her] vote was not questioned.” When asked if she thought that the sense of urgency around this presidential election is greater than in years past, she gives a one-word response: “Huge.”
Pamela is not alone in her concern about her vote being counted. “With the mail thing that Trump is doing I didn’t wanna risk it,” says Andrew, a young Colombian-American who exits City Hall shortly after Pamela. He doesn’t trust Trump-appointed postmaster general Louis Dejoy, and calls him a “scumbag.” He has voted for Biden, but more than having a positive view of the former vice president, he is motivated against the current president: “This is about to become a dictatorship and if we don’t pull out of this fast it’s over.” A number of scholars that study political transitions have indeed raised similar concerns recently.
Others voting for Biden are also driven by a deep dissatisfaction with the current president rather than a strong belief in his opponent. “We want to get Trump out of the White House, we want this nightmare to be over,” says Sara, a voter in Little Haiti who has just cast her ballot at the Lemon City Branch Library. Here too, the line stretches around the block. “We want normalcy back in American politics,” says her boyfriend Luke. Both vote early in every election at this location, and confirm that the current turnout is unusually large. “It’s great to see,” says Sara.
While left-leaning voters like Andrew are wary of voting by mail because of the current administration, there are strong feelings from the other side on the same issue for entirely different reasons. “Usually if there’s any problems with polls it’s got to do with absentee voting because of fraudulent actions taken [by voters],” says Rigo, who’s voting in Hialeah at the Miami Lakes Community Center. It should be noted that voter fraud of any kind, let alone by mail specifically, has not proven to be an issue despite decades of allegations from various Republican figures.
Trump’s supporters mirror Biden’s in their profound mistrust for the opposing candidate. “The stakes are high,” says Patricia, originally from Ecuador, who immigrated to the United States in 1990. She also votes early in every election, and confirms that turnout here today is unprecedented. She worries about Biden being “all the way to the left,” and sees a great deal of risk in putting him in the White House: “It’s either liberalism, socialism, or just the way we like it: capitalism.”
Ralph Richards, another resident of Hialeah, is a Biden voter who thinks these concerns are greatly exaggerated: “[Biden] is the most moderate democrat that they could have ever hoped for. […] He will be a middle, moderate president for both parties.” Biden has indeed portrayed himself in this manner to his supporters – when accused of being a socialist, he reminds them that he “beat the socialist” (Bernie Sanders) in the primary.
Ralph is dressed in Biden gear from head to toe and is waving a Biden flag (beyond the requisite distance from the polling place), and his car is covered in Biden signs on all sides. “As much as humanly possible I will be here for the Biden campaign.” He is not affiliated with the campaign in any official capacity, but he feels stirred to action because of his personal situation: “My husband and I are here, and we have three beautiful children,” he says as he shows me a picture of them all together on his phone. “It’s very personal for myself and my family. […] First and foremost, I want to grow old to be their father, so it’s very important for me to have health, and to have a leader to guide us through this pandemic.”