Meet the Voters, Part II: Election Day

Check out part one, Meet the Voters, for more portraits and stories from the 2019 Memphis Municipal Election.

MLK50: Justice Through Journalism and High Ground News’ collaborative coverage of Memphis voters and their voting stories from the 2019 Memphis Municipal Election continues. 

Read the first installment with portraits and reflections from early voters at the Abundant Grace Fellowship Church polling site here: Meet the Voters.

On Election Day, our team set up at Gaisman Community Center and Trinity United Methodist Church polling sites.

The three sites were chosen for their volume of voters, as well as the diverse neighborhoods they serve: Whitehaven and the surrounding areas, Midtown, Berclair and The Heights.

Here’s what residents on October 3 had to say about the purpose and process of voting.
 

Russell Smith, 54, boat captain


What motivated you to vote today? 
“I am voting for more progressive candidates on the local level because I believe that’s how you get things to change.”

Are there specific things you're hoping to change in the city?
“Certainly. I want the #FightFor15 to succeed; I want the income gap in this country addressed, and I want to make sure that public services are properly funded.”

Do you consider yourself active in political and civic issues?
“I am an active voter. I’m not active in local politics because I spend so much time working, and I’ve got two kids.”

What do you hope your vote accomplishes?
“I hope that the working [and] middle-class will be more properly represented in Memphis government than it is right now. And Shelby County. It’s getting there, it’s getting there.”

Why is it important for your voice to be heard?
“If you don’t vote, you can’t cry.”
 

Edward Smith, 63, City of Memphis employee


When did you first vote?
“First time I voted? Oohwee, that was way back there. 19 … I’ll just say ’75.”

What motivated you to vote today?
“The mayor’s race, the referendum, the city council.”

What do you hope your vote accomplishes?
“It will accomplish a brighter city of Memphis … where the kids can have activities. Stop the crime, all that. ’Cause we have a big crime situation in Memphis, Tennessee. I can go deep into that.”

Why is it important for your voice to be heard?
“I want the city to grow into a big place like Atlanta and all the rest of them. They’re booming. Memphis is always a step behind. Just a step behind, but we’re growing.”

What are some specific ways you've seen voting make a difference?
“I’m not going to name names, but there’s a couple of them jumping out there that look like they’re ready to get Memphis moving.”


Amber Rahmlow Oropeza, 26


What motivated you to vote today?
“Especially for the firefighters and the policemen, so they can get better benefits. And for Memphis — to make it a better Memphis.”

Are there specific things you're hoping to change in the city?
“The blight, especially. Like building up better neighborhoods, the low-income neighborhoods. Getting all the trash out. Especially the homeless people that are walking around out on the corners; I’d like to see them gone. And just make it a better community for the kids.”

Why is it important for your voice to be heard?
“I would like to see more younger people getting out and voting because I don’t think they really know how much it will benefit [them] to vote.”

What are some specific ways you've seen voting make a difference?
“I guess for Memphis trying to get a better community setup, like things for the children and better jobs and stuff for people.”
 

Herb Petermann, 38


When did you first vote and when did you last vote?
“The last time I voted would have probably been in the last presidential election. The first time would have been the 2000 presidential election? Something like that.”

Are there any specific policies you feel most affect your community, household or job?
“Yeah, with the public works, I’ve got friends and family that are police officers, firefighters and stuff. So yeah, I want to support that for them and just for the community itself.”

Why is it important for your voice to be heard?
“As the voices join together, it gets louder and louder. We have to start as individuals then organize as groups if we really want to change anything and have our voices heard.”

What are some specific ways you've seen voting make a difference?
“Yeah, probably the last presidential election. Not that that may have been a good difference or a bad difference, but it was definitely a big change and unexpected, so I think it’s [not] hard to argue that those individual votes definitely made a difference.”
 

Elane Westfaul, 23


When did you first vote?
“Last year.”

What motivated you to vote today?
“There are some really exciting candidates. The prospect of having a first female mayor would be really cool. And civic duty and all that."

Are there any specific policies you feel most affect your community, household or job? 
“I know that public transportation, for a lot of voters I talk to has been an issue. And then education and making sure that all schools have equal opportunities. I feel like I do have a lot of privilege, but those things seem to be important to other people.”

What do you hope your vote will accomplish? 
“A candidate who follows through with the things that they’re campaigning on. I mean, at the end of the day I think it is still politics, but I think that there are some candidates who have already kind of shown that they’re willing to follow through on those promises. So yeah, someone genuine and honest.”

Why is it important for your voice to be heard? 
“I mean, just an example — I have a car and I was able to drive here today. I was able to leave work and come up here and vote, and I’m still complaining about the ID not working. But I can only imagine if I had gotten up here and I was relying on public transportation or another ride or if this was the only 15 minutes that I could leave work today and then I just wouldn’t be able to vote. The fact that I even have a car and am able to come up here, I feel like I should be doing this.”
 

John Joe Sohm, 78


What motivated you to vote today?
“I play golf. I was standing around and some dude said to me, ‘you voted?’ I said, ‘voted for what?’ He said, ‘Hell man, there’s a big election going on.’ And he motivated me. This guy did. He was younger than everybody. And so I got to thinking about all that, and I said ‘You mean I got the right to vote?’ Then he said ‘Yeah, man. You need to give that some serious consideration.’ Well, he had as much to do with me getting out. Another person. A younger man. And I feel good about that.”

Are there any specific things you're hoping change in the city? 
“Better government. I really do. I have listened to our mayor. I liked Mayor Strickland. I met him; he came down to the Evergreen [Historic District]. And I liked what he had to say. The only thing I told him the other day in that meeting, I said all this racket, I live on McLean … it’s like a racetrack. All that traffic.”
 

Ethan Varghese, 19


When did you first vote? 
“The first time I voted was in the 2018 midterm elections."

What motivated you to vote today? 
“Well, I just, I’m an advocate of the voting process, and I just wanted to come out and support the local election.”

Are there any specific local issues you're paying attention to in this election cycle?  
“Mostly just crime rate and education and also just the cleanliness of the city, everything like that.”

Do you consider yourself active in political and civic issues? 
“I’m starting to become that way.”

What do you hope your vote accomplishes?  
“I hope that it will voice my opinions and encourage others to also do the same.”

Why is it important for your voice to be heard? 
“It’s important because my generation, we’re coming up and we’re going to be the next generation to control and to lead. So it’s important for us to learn about issues and vote for them.”

Are there some specific ways you've seen voting make a difference? 
“Well, not that I can say yet. I have really seen it yet, as a young person. But I think I’m starting to.”
 

Brenda Barnett, 57


When did you first vote and when did you last vote?
“Always. Since I could.”

Are there specific things you're hoping to change in the city?
“Our police department needs to have more support and be built up. The firemen and the policemen are big to me and my husband … to just support them and realize what a hard job they have and that they need all the benefits and pay and help they can get.”

Do you consider yourself active in political and civic issues?
“Yes. One of the city councilmen we work with quite a bit.”

Why is it important for your voice to be heard?
“I guess I just want less politics and more just getting done. I wish everybody would help each other, whether your person got in or not. Just everybody come together and help the city. I mean, this is our home, you know.”

What are some specific ways you've seen voting make a difference?
“Well, jobs. Jobs are better. Our business is better. I think there’s a lot of people out there, homeless people and medical needs. There’s just a lot more we need to do. A whole lot more.”
 

Michael Smith, 41


What motivated you to vote today? 
“I lived just across the road and so it’s not possible that I could possibly forget. So I look out and see ‘Oh, yeah, it’s time to vote.’ Whenever I vote I always pull up the sample ballot and I look at every issue. And I make sure that I have an opinion and that I’m educated on each issue that I’ll be voting on.”

Are there any specific policies you feel most affect your community, household or job? 
“In the city, I believe that education and policy around schools is hugely important to our future. And then really just like you said basic operating experience of the candidate makes a big difference because they’re trying to bring in business create jobs. They’re trying to improve our local economy. On a national scale, immigration, I believe, is the most important issue right now. And I think that a lot of what is going on has been going on for a long time. I think will haunt us in history. I think we’re doing such a poor job with immigration and seeing to people’s basic human rights.”

What do you hope your vote accomplishes? 
“I just hope it’s one voice in a sea of many. And we get a good outcome. I mean. I don’t really expect my particular vote to do much.”

Why is it important for your voice to be heard? 
“I’m very social guy, and I’m involved on a community level with our school and with our neighborhood. We have some really great keg parties, and I’m not bashful about making my opinion known. So, if anything, I think I influence locals and friends to maybe vote or to have an opinion on an issue. Or maybe, if not that, maybe just position an issue as being more or less important with some of my friends.”
 

Sanjeet Rangarajan, 35


When did you first vote and when did you last vote? 
“I voted last year, and the first time I voted I was 18 and it was absentee from college.”

What motivated you to vote today? 
“I just moved to Memphis two years ago, so I’m still kinda getting an idea about local politics and some of the issues facing the city. It’s really important to vote, and I’ve done it every year since I was eligible. I researched the candidates, and I think some of the issues, with pensions for city workers and ensuring good roads and some of the other issues I care about. So I just decided to come out and vote my choices.”

Are there any other policies you feel affect your life, home or community? 
“A lot of the things are going to be more decided next year, but ensuring access to education for folks who are less fortunate, equal rights, despite backgrounds and other circumstances, are important to me. Ensuring that politicians and other folks we elect have the best interests of Memphis for the whole population, not just segments of the population, that make sure everyone benefits.”

Do you consider yourself active in political and civic issues? 
“I’m a consumer of a lot of the news and talking amongst others. I haven’t done a lot of grassroots efforts myself, but I try to be thoughtful about it. I make sure to vote every election.”

What do you hope your vote will accomplish? 
“In general, just continued progress for all Memphians, at least this year in this election. And next year, hopefully a good direction for the rest of the country.”

Why is it important for your voice to be heard? 
“This is one of the best benefits we have as Americans, the opportunity to vote every year. It’s the one opportunity I have to make a difference on a bigger scale than what I do on a daily basis.”
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