Minnesota votes: with COVID-19, for racial justice, from Trump to Green Party and for the community

Mike Featherston stands on top of his “Patriot Pop-up.” He voted for Trump. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Minnesota voters are poised to set an even more impressive turnout record in 2020, with many saying they felt this is the most important election of their lifetime.

Before polls even opened on Tuesday, the state had accepted a whopping 1.8 million absentee ballots — more than half of all votes cast in 2016. As the day progressed, voters in Minneapolis surpassed their 2016 turnout record with hours to spare. Elsewhere election officials needed to call for more ballots and ran out of the coveted “I Voted” stickers.

Tensions were high leading up to Election Day with reports of armed citizens planning to “guard” polling places and recent litigation creating anxiety about whether all mail ballots would be counted. For the most part, however, voting happened across the state without major conflicts or technological problems.

“It has been a superb day,” Minnesota’s Secretary of State Steve Simon said in a news briefing Tuesday afternoon.

Although President Donald Trump may have been the main motivation for most voters to get to the polls — for and against him — much more than the presidency is at stake.

The party that controls the Capitol in St. Paul will determine how Minnesota confronts a looming budget deficit, historic unemployment, the redrawing legislative districts, police reform, marijuana legalization, health care costs and more. All 201 seats in the state Legislature are up for grabs this year, but the balance of power will likely be determined by just a handful of state Senate seats.

Here are some voters we talked to at polling places across the Twin Cities metro:

Liam Craig
Occupation: Student at University of Northwestern in St. Paul
Age: 20
Hometown: Lakeville 

Liam Craig tested positive for COVID-19 last week but was still able to vote in person. An election official brought him a ballot to complete at the curb. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Liam Craig tested positive for COVID-19 last week, but he was still able to cast a ballot in person. He says he’s been feeling much better recently and doesn’t think he’s contagious.

To be on the safe side, his uncle went into the polling place and requested for him to vote curbside. An election official brought Craig’s ballot to his car and he filled in the bubble next to Donald Trump.

Craig said he is anti-abortion rights, which is why he voted for Trump. But he did split his ticket for state Senate. He voted for Rep. Matt Little, DFL-Lakeville, who’s in a tight race against Zach Duckworth.

“I met him a few years back. I’ve read through his beliefs and I like what he stands for,” Craig said of Little. “And I didn’t want to be a one-sided voter.”

Little relies on voters like Craig splitting their tickets. In 2016, he won by one point, the same year his district went for Trump by nearly 17 points. Part of his success can be attributed to his inroads with young voters through TikTok, though Craig says he hasn’t seen any of Little’s videos.

 

Terin Mack
Occupation: IT Professional
Age: 28
Hometown: Fairfax, Virigina

Terin Mack, a 28-year-old from Virginia, said he voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 election. “We just need to get Trump out of there,” he said. “I don’t like Biden either, to be honest.” (Photo by Dylan Miettinen/Minnesota Reformer)

Terin Mack said his vote was driven by dislike for the current president, not support for the Democratic candidate.

“We just need to get Trump out of there,” he said at a polling station near the University of Minnesota. “I don’t like Biden either, to be honest. But he’s the lesser of two evils.”

Mack said he worries about the economy and the environment, and disagrees with many of Trump’s actions as president, like the ban on travel from majority-Muslim countries.

“If (Trump) gets another four years, it’s going to suck. It’s going to be cool for all the rich one-percenters, but I’m unfortunately not one of them,” Mack said.

 

Mike Featherston
Occupation: Carnival operator/Trump merchandise salesman
Age: 34
Hometown: Elko 

Mike Featherston bought converted an old bus into a Trump merchandise pop-up store on the side of the highway after the pandemic shuttered his carnival business. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Mike Featherston bought an old school bus a couple months ago — the “Patriot Pop-up” — and set it up next to I-35 to sell Trump merchandise after the pandemic killed his carnival business.

“I earned zero income this summer until I opened the Trump bus,” Featherston said.

Featherston’s family has been in the carnival business for five generations. They own 50 rides and travel around the state to the fairs in Scott, Steele, Ramsey, Carver, Olmsted and Washington counties. But that legacy came to a screeching halt as the pandemic forced fairs and festivals across the state to close.

He took some time off on Tuesday to cast his ballot in Elko, about 45 minutes south of the Twin Cities. He voted for Trump because he said he believes in personal freedoms — he’s against mask mandates — and in law and order. “I can’t believe we abandoned a precinct,” he said.

“It’s a historic election. Every generation has a historic election and this is mine,” Featherson said.

 

Brittany Simpson
Occupation: Nurse
Age: 29
Hometown: Minneapolis

 

Payton Yahn
Occupation: Student at the University of St. Thomas School of Law
Age: 24
Hometown: Viroqua, Wisconsin

Payton Yahn, a 24-year-old law student from Wisconsin, said she voted for a write-in candidate with the American Solidarity Party for president. The relatively new Christian party aligns with Yahn’s views better than the two major parties, she said. (Photo by Dylan Miettinen/Minnesota Reformer)

Payton Yahn said she was undecided when she arrived at her polling place in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood of Minneapolis.

At the last minute, Yahn opted for a write-in presidential candidate with the American Solidarity Party, a relatively new Christian party. She said neither of the major parties align with her views as a recent Catholic convert who supports police reform, opposes abortion rights and worries about the plight of immigrants at the U.S. border.

Originally a Bernie Sanders supporter, Yahn voted Republican in the state’s House and Senate races.

“I believe in a consistent life ethic, which means womb to tomb, you can’t kill people. And to me, both major parties put people’s lives at risk,” she said.

 

Kamillah El-Amin
Occupation: Nonprofit employee
Age: 47
Hometown: north Minneapolis

Kamillah El-Amin, 47, a North Minneapolis resident, voted at North Community High School on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Kamillah El-Amin, who voted on Tuesday in person with her son, said she frequently votes with her community in mind.

As a longtime north Minneapolis resident whose family is very civically active, she said she wants to see policies enacted that benefit the community, particularly in education.

“We want to give our community what we deserve,” she said. “Elected officials make sure that (public) dollars are spent for a better quality of life, a real quality of life. We don’t want to just survive. We want to thrive.”

El-Amin said she voted straight Democratic on Tuesday, despite holding some Republican views on certain issues.

“I’m definitely Democratic all the way right now,” she said. “There are some values of the Republican Party that mesh well with me; however, I’m sorry, we have to get Trump out of  there.”

 

Xylus McCoy
Occupation: Student
Age: 20
Hometown: Minneapolis

 

Samantha Twite and Tyler Olson
Occupations: Nonprofit worker, Airforce contractor
Ages: 26, 28
Hometown: Londale 

Tyler Olson and Samantha Twite of Lonsdale supported Trump in 2016 but voted green up and down their ballots in 2020. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Couple Samantha Twite and Tyler Olson both voted for Trump in 2016, but this year they went green up and down the ballot.

They voted Green Party for president and for members of the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party in local elections. (They can’t remember the names of who all was running.)

“I’m sick of the left and right. I want to see a change,” Twite said. “When I first voted I was more Republican, but now I don’t have my parents trying to influence me so I can do my own research.”

Olson and Twite say they aren’t entirely displeased with the job Trump has done but are turned off by his constant provocations.

“You never know what [Trump] is going to do on Twitter,” Olson said. “The whole time he’s been president, I’ve been traveling around the world, and it’s crazy how much other countries think he’s crazy.”

 

Diane Meyer
Occupation: Retired
Age: “Over 70 but under 80”
Hometown: Hugo 

Diane Meyer of Hugo cast her ballot for Trump in-person because she likes the tradition of voting on Election Day. Photo by Max Nesterak.

Diane Meyer said she is sticking with President Donald Trump because she is against abortion and because “the Democrats are socialists.”

“Trump needs to close his mouth sometimes, but at this point in time he is what our country needs,” Meyer said.

She also said she was repelled by the sometimes hostile protests which have swept across the state this summer following the police killing of George Floyd, including a rally in Hugo in front of Minneapolis Police Federation President Bob Kroll’s house. DFL state House candidate John Thompson yelled obscenities in the street and protesters burned pinata effigies of Kroll and his wife Liz Collin, a WCCO reporter.

“Protest in itself isn’t bad, but you add all the violence,” Meyer said. “It was loud, noisy, vulgar. I didn’t listen to them. But it was kind of terrifying to the neighbors. They should not be in a residence like that.”

 

Andy Hansen
Occupation: Astrologer
Age: 33
Hometown: northeast Minneapolis


Brad Hasskamp
Occupation: State government worker
Age: 41
Hometown: north Minneapolis

Brad Hasskamp, 41, a state government employee, voted for former Vice President Joe Biden on Tues. Nov. 3 in north Minneapolis. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Brad Hasskamp left North Community High School on Tuesday having voted for former Vice President Joe Biden for president. He said he was motivated to vote this year to help support nonwhite members of his community.

“I felt obliged to vote for dignity and respect for all the people that are in my community,” he said.

Hasskamp said he trusted Democrats generally to handle the pandemic better, saying he believed Biden and other Democrats would strike a better balance of supporting the economy while keeping Minnesotans safe from COVID-19.

On police reforms and racial justice, he said Democrats were more in line with his views despite some issues with how they handled the civil unrest that erupted in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

“A lot of our community members have not really seen true justice,” he said.

 

Ty Gabrielson
Occupation: Student at UW-River Falls
Age: 21
Hometown: Hugo 

Ty Gabrielson of Hugo cast their first ballot in a presidential election for Biden and Harris. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Ty Gabrielson cast their first vote for president for Joe Biden. A senior at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Gabrielson said gender and marriage equality was their top concern.

“I wanted to make sure that I could still get married,” said Gabrielson, who identifies as non-binary and pansexual. “I know with Amy [Coney Barrett] getting appointed to the court, it could risk my ability to marry the person I love.”

Gabrielson followed up by email to the Reformer listing 17 other issues important to them and why they voted a straight Democratic ticket, including racial equity, abortion rights, universal healthcare and stronger background checks for gun owners.

 

Jazmin Floyd
Occupation: Unemployed, previously worked in social services
Age: 42
Hometown: north Minneapolis

Jazmin Floyd, 42, of North Minneapolis, said she voted for former Vice President Joe Biden because she was turned off by Trump’s racist rhetoric and frequent lying. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Jazmin Floyd, whose job was affected by the pandemic, said her top issues this year were increasing affordable housing, ensuring everyone had access to health insurance and immigration.

Raised on a Native American reservation, Floyd said she grew up voting Democratic but holds some Republican views, particularly on immigration, favoring policies that reward people who follow immigration rules.

“It’s been embedded in me to vote Democratic, however, I do have Republican views,” she said. “If we could get a Republican in (the White House) who actually wasn’t a racist, a bigot, a liar, I would be voting (for a Republican). I didn’t want to vote for Joe Biden, but Donald Trump has to go.”

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.

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Dylan Miettinen
Dylan Miettinen

Dylan Miettinen is a Reformer intern. A fourth-year student at the University of Minnesota, he was born and raised in Omaha, Neb. He currently serves as the editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, the Minnesota Daily. He's also worked for CNN, the Minnesota Media and Publishing Association and the Fiction/Non/Fiction podcast.

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Jared Goyette
Jared Goyette

Jared Goyette is a freelance journalist quarantined somewhere in the Twin Cites.

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