Westchester County, N.Y., lies just north of the Bronx, meaning that it lies just north of New York City. Debates over where “Upstate New York” begins often include mentions of Westchester, because it serves as a sort of transitional region between the city and the rest of the state, the way March serves as a transition between winter and spring. Much of it is made up of people who until earlier this year commuted into the city to work but, the farther north you head, the less that’s true.
At the very top of Westchester County is a small, tilted rectangle called Yorktown. It includes a weird, accidental confluence of political landmarks, several of which only emerged in the past few years. A big chunk of it is taken up by Franklin Roosevelt State Park. The hamlet of Yorktown Heights, which sits just east of that park, gained some minor fame last year when it emerged that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) had lived there during high school. And dipping down into the town from the north is the southernmost part of Donald J. Trump State Park, donated to the state in 2006 by the man who is now president.
This intrusion of red America into blue America is usefully symbolic. In 2016, Yorktown voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton by less than half a percentage point. The town literally balances a Trump region and a traditional Democratic region, which four years ago led to electoral stasis. It’s the sort of place that Trump has specifically tried to appeal to with his recent rhetoric.
New Yorkers finally got a chance to weigh in on those efforts with the start of voting in the 2020 presidential contest this weekend. The coronavirus pandemic spurred the state to introduce early voting during the final week before Election Day and hundreds of people from in and around Yorktown came out on Saturday to cast their ballots.
By midafternoon, those who hoped to vote had been waiting for hours for the privilege. A few dozen yards from the entrance to the community center where the voting was taking place was Jerry, 58, a firefighter who declined to give his last name. Asked why he felt it was important to cast his ballot on the first day of voting, he was frank.
“We didn’t expect to wait four hours today,” he said. “But once we got in line, we stayed.”
Jerry planned to vote for Trump.
“I want my voice to be heard this year,” he said. “Important year to get my voice heard.”
About two dozen people in front of him were Janice Chazdon and her husband, Lane, 64. They’d come prepared, lugging a bench for the duration of the line, which stretched back through a park and around a track.
“It’s a privilege to vote,” Janice Chazdon said when asked why she wanted to vote. “I love my country. And I hate to see it abused” — a reference to her concerns about the president. Chazdon planned to vote for former vice president Joe Biden.
Like Jerry, the Chazdons indicated that there hadn’t been any tension among people in line (though many weren’t eager to speak with a reporter).
“We’re Yorktowners,” she said. “We’re polite.”
This would be the first vote Chazdon had cast in years. Most of the others with whom I spoke indicated that they almost always voted and were voting early either because it was convenient or to send a message about their enthusiasm.
“I just wanted to make sure my vote counted,” Toriana Patterson, 26, said when asked why she had wanted to vote on Saturday. “I didn’t want to do the [absentee] ballot because” — she laughed — “I just want to make sure my vote counted.”
This was her third presidential vote, one she cast with enthusiasm. This was in part out of concern for the moment.
“I’m hopeful. I’m not going to stop hoping, but things are obviously very shaky,” she said. “But I have to believe we have a better tomorrow each day. I’m just trying to remain hopeful and positive and just be kind to my neighbors.”
Many of those who came out to vote expressed a similar weariness, referring to the country in the moment as “bleak,” “chaotic” or “crazy.” Predictably, many cited the pandemic as a central cause of concern — and Trump’s handling of the pandemic as a motivation for their vote.
That issue was not a reason offered by Melania Scala, 57, as a reason to vote against the president. In fact Scala made it quite clear that she planned to support the president, sporting a “Make America Great Again” hat, a Trump T-shirt and even a Trump-emblazoned face mask — all of which would need to be covered once she got within 100 feet of the polling place in accordance with state law. (A volunteer offering assistance to voters, Michael Peitsch, 64, told me that very few people had been wearing candidate paraphernalia, though one person did have Biden socks.)
“I don’t blame him for the pandemic,” Scala said — despite the gym where she worked having to close because of a drop in business. “He’s just trying to deal with the consequences of the actions of the pandemic. He’s trying to do the best he can.”
She blamed the press, in part.
“The media really took on a lot of fearmongering in the beginning,” she said. “So, you know, a lot of people are afraid. It’s evident. Here it is seven months later and people are still afraid to come to the gym and work out.”
Asked why she wanted to vote on the first possible day, Scala said that she was “concerned about voting day” — Nov. 3 — “that there might be issues with rioting or protesters.”
“I know there’s been a lot of antifa and [Black Lives Matter] over in — at the Mahopac courthouse,” Scala added, referring to a nearby town of about 8,000 people. “So I’m thinking on voting day they might be around and I just don’t want to have any conflicts.”
Trump had her vote largely because of the economy. Scala said her income tripled while he was in office.
That’s precisely the case Trump himself makes. But even in the suburbs of New York, it hasn’t entirely landed. Colleen Arevalo, 44, for example, planned to vote not only against Trump but against Republicans across the board.
“I’m the type of person who usually votes for the best person, but in this case,” she said, “I don’t feel like that can happen anymore.”
Like most of the others with whom I spoke, she said she votes regularly, having learned the importance of doing so as she got older.
“When you’re younger,” she added, “you just don’t.”
About 20 yards behind her, the presence of Emily Kaufman, 18, served as a counterpoint to that theory. Kaufman had come up from Hofstra University on Long Island to cast her first vote with her parents. Asked why she wanted to vote, she was not reserved.
“Because I don’t like Trump,” she said, adding that “he’s a bad guy. He doesn’t care about anybody but himself. He’s sexist, misogynistic, racist. Everything wrong.”
(Her father, Aron, 59, was one of those who pointed to the president’s coronavirus response as a reason for voting against him.)
At the very back of the line were Camelia Mihaila, 49, and Mio David, 50. They were not dissuaded by the lengthy wait ahead of them, given the chaos they saw in the country.
Mihaila blamed misinformation.
“Most people — many people get their information from social media,” she said. “And everybody’s posting whatever view they have, unchecked. On Facebook, Twitter, posting [conspiracy theories].”
A few yards from there, Karl, 70, offered his thoughts about those voting early, which he was insistent was inappropriate.
“I plan on voting the day the Constitution said: the third,” he said. (This is not true.) “I believe we’re getting away from our Constitution.” He blamed this on millennials not learning history in school — or, he clarified, learning “a form of history that never happened.”
Karl rattled off a number of Russia-investigation-related conspiracy theories before adding that there was a new topic emerging: Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son.
“And these people — if you don’t keep up on the news, you don’t,” he said of those waiting to vote. “A lot of my news comes from shortwave radio. I get the world news. All these things that are being done, these people don’t know about.”
One didn’t get the sense that the people waiting to vote were particularly uninformed. One did get the sense that the wait was not always enjoyed. At one point, a man who had been playing soccer with his son in the park tried to convince his wife that they should come back at some other point. After all, it was almost dinnertime. She seemed to win the argument by noting they’d already been there an hour.
At another point in line was a group of middle-schoolers bantering in the way that young kids do. They were apparently discussing a mock election they’d had at school.
“You voted for Donald Trump!” one said, accusatorially.
“No,” the other said, offering a bulletproof rejoinder: “I like the color blue!”
Near the front of the line — meaning among those who’d already waited for hours — was the Everett family, parents Nick, 32, and Mary Ann, 34. Nick was pushing a double-decker stroller in which James, 5, was lounging above another child. The Everetts said they were “excited to make a statement” with their vote.
Asked what that statement was, Nick Everett paused.
“I think we’ll look back, a hundred years from now at 2020 and say we each had a chance to make a difference in the outcome of where this country is going,” he said. “We’re proud to vote early on the first day and to make that statement.”
“And we’re looking forward to talking to James here and Isabelle down below, who’s 3, and tell them that we all came out together, that we all came out together — these guys have been here for three-and-a-half hours,” he continued.
“I think they’ll look back someday and talk about the 2020 election, and I can tell them, you guys stood with us for about three-and-a-half hours, maybe four hours, and we voted to make a change.”
It probably ended up being closer to four hours, but Biden earned two more votes.
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