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Vignettes of Ohio voters

After the pandemic and racial equity were raised as key issues in online Your Voice Ohio engagements, students in the Collaborative News Lab at Kent State University were asked to interview several people about how those topics were affecting their interest in the election.

Name: Jason Williams

Hometown: Reynoldsburg

Age: 35

Occupation: Long-distance bus driver

Jason Williams used to love driving up to Cleveland as part of his job as a Greyhound bus driver. It was one of his favorite places to visit. He hasn’t gotten to do that in a few months now, though, due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“They cut a lot of schedules,” Williams said. “A lot of people aren’t riding buses right now. They cut a lot of schedules in general. Columbus they cut a lot, and then Cleveland and Cincinnati. I used to love being in Cleveland.”

A lot of drivers were furloughed, Williams said, and it turns out some can make more money collecting unemployment than they made as a driver. Williams continues to drive a bus and isn’t worried about his health–he said his immune system is strong enough to handle any virus.

He is worried about how the virus might affect the 2020 presidential election, and said he is concerned that social distancing measures and masks might be used to stop people from voting.

“A lot of people don’t want to wear a mask right now, so they might have an issue with them trying to go in and vote,” Williams said. “That might be an issue, or they might say ‘the country is shut down again, the election is canceled due to the COVID-19.'”

In recent months, Williams used his free time to attend protests organized by the Black Lives Matter movement.

“One thing about the Columbus Police is, they don’t like the fact that everybody’s coming together,” Williams said. “Blacks, whites, everybody from every part of town, the hood or whatever, coming together.”

Williams saw developments in recent weeks, like more city councils examining police budgets, that give him hope “real change” can happen. But Williams said the pressure needs to remain on the police.

“Lately, since the whole protests and stuff, I’ve been very up and good on my current events and stuff like that and I’ve been sharing it with other people,” Williams said. “So we can be pretty much fact checking ourselves. So never listen to what somebody says, take all the information so we can know and if they say something about voting, make sure we can go out there and vote anyways.”

Name: Rudy Sever

Hometown: New Albany

Occupation: Retired high school government teacher

Age: 75

Rudy Sever uses an alcohol spray in his car every time he leaves his house, ever since COVID-19 became big news in the United States in March. He never goes anywhere without wearing a mask and gloves, and he is careful to throw them away when he re-enters his condo.

“Elaine has asthma,” Sever said of his wife. “She has diabetes and I can’t bring anything into the house, so I have to be very careful when I’m outside.”

As a former teacher, Sever, 75, is following the plans being made to reopen Ohio schools in the fall. And what he’s hearing worries him.

“I just feel sorry for the schools,” Sever said. “And I don’t even think it’s possible for them to do what the president wants them to do, which is ridiculous.”

Sever taught high school government and every year, he would help his students register to vote. Whether they voted or not was up to them, but they would be registered.

“When I was still teaching, I said [to the students] ‘do you like having your parents tell you what to do?'” Sever said. “And of course they didn’t like that much. I said ‘well, if you don’t get out and vote, they’re going to continue to tell you what they want you to do.'”

Name: Nancy Harden

Hometown: Concord Township, Lake County

Occupation: Retired, former IT manager

Age: 74

Nancy Harden said she constantly worries about contracting COVID-19, but the 74-year-old said she also realizes that staying away from family has implications for mental health and socialization, which are just as important.

“At the beginning I was very cautious. So, I would have food delivered from the grocery stores. I wouldn’t see my grandchildren or children. I’ve loosened up with that, which has helped mentally to be able to at least see my children and go to a store occasionally,” she said.

Soon Harden’s daughter will be returning to her job as a teacher, and three weeks after, her grandchildren, who she babysits, will return to school. She’s concerned her daughter is around lots of kids and wonders what she could bring home. “I’m a little concerned about that, but that’s the risk I’m going to take.”

As protests involving race and police brutality continue to sweep the nation, Harden said when she was growing up, she “came from a mixed-prejudice family. My father did not like other nationalities and colors, and my mother was more open with saying, you know, ‘love everybody, God’s children’ sort of thing.”

The current landscape of the upcoming presidential election is also on Harden’s mind.

“I just think that the way our politics in this country runs, you don’t get good, qualified people because nobody in their right mind that has any real intelligence would want to be in there. The only value for anybody is the greed and the money and influence they get.”

At this moment in history, Harden’s glad she’s 74. “The future scares the heck out of me, and I don’t know that I want to be around for it. You know, I could have skipped this.”

Name: Mary Garvey Apodaca

Hometown: Toledo

Occupation: Public health nurse

Age: 58

Many Americans lost their jobs or had their work hours reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Mary Garvey Apodaca, an essential worker and public health nurse, is working more.

Coupled with her increased workload and its added stressors, Apodaca’s father-in-law tested positive for COVID-19 and was recently placed on a ventilator. Because he did not test positive for coronavirus when he was admitted to the hospital, he was allowed visitors. Now, those visitors are being advised to quarantine, including some of Apodaca’s family members.

“I’m seeing what a ripple effect it [COVID-19] can be, affecting way more than just the person who gets it,” Apodaca said.

With social distancing guidelines in place for Ohio residents, she is unable to see friends and family members, something she said is extremely difficult. Apodaca finds hope in her faith, though, as it motivates her to be resilient and to love others in a self-sacrificing way, she said, especially as it relates to the current racial tensions in the country.

“Treating people with respect and dignity is going to eventually make a difference,” she said.

Apodaca emphasized the importance of examining one’s biases and to listen, learn and talk about racial injustices, so she can help to contribute to the solution. When she’s pulled over by police, she said, her white privilege makes her able to not worry about being mistreated, but that reality is completely different for her son, who is Hispanic.

“I see all kinds of institutional ways that make it difficult for African Americans,” she said.

Apodaca said she will become more active in the voting process during this year’s presidential election. She said campaign advertisements distort information, but she will be visiting election websites and watching the debates to try and increase her own knowledge.

“I think I need to do more research,” she said. “I really want to be more informed.”

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