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How Low Voter Turnout In 2016 May Shift Dramatically In 2020 For A Kansas City Precinct

102720_LZ_Karilynn Myers2_VotersElection2020.JPG
Laura Ziegler
Karilynn Myers says as a Black American, she won't vote for Trump "for obvious reasons." As a 64-year-old woman, she worries about health care, being stopped by police because she's Black and what she calls "the hatefulness" that has spread from rhetoric out of the White House.

While election officials are processing record numbers of mail-in ballots and projecting high turnout Tuesday, some voters in one historically low-turnout precinct say they're energized to see a change this year.

Karilynn Myers, 64, made her voting plan a long time ago. As a postal worker on the overnight shift, she will get off work at 5 a.m. and plans to be at the polls by 6 a.m.

“And I’ll stand in line as long as necessary,” she says.

She says she always votes because her grandmother couldn’t and her mother wasn’t always able to.

Myers lives in the Harvard Court apartments, near where Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 40 intersect in Kansas City, Missouri.

The complex makes up Ward 15, Precinct 21, which had the lowest voter turnout of all wards in 2016 covered by the Kansas City Election Board. Of 200 registered voters, 39.5% voted.

But election officials are projecting this year will be different.

Shawn Kieffer with the Kansas City Election Board says officials have already taken in 33,000 in-person absentee ballots. That’s four times what they recorded in 2016.

“We’re projecting record turnout, similar to 2008 numbers, (President Barack) Obama’s first election,” Kieffer said.

In 2008, 66% of the voters in the urban core turned out, compared with 58% in 2016.

Nationwide, The Pew Research Center finds that two-thirds of Black registered voters say they are extremely motivated this year, compared with 60% who voted in 2016.

Myers will vote for Joe Biden “as the lesser of two evils,” she says. “Mrs. (Kamala) Harris as his V.P. is very helpful.” Anything to get Donald Trump out of office seems to be a prevailing sentiment.

“I did not like him (in 2016) but not as much as I dislike him now,” she said. “It’s like he’s trying to run the country like one of his businesses … and the change they’re making is not conducive to the common man.”

102720_LZ_Debra Harris2__VotersElection2020.JPG
Laura Ziegler
Debra Harris says racism and misogyny are worse than she's seen in her 69 years. She says people are taking "any avenue open" to vote before or on Election Day.

Things are rough

Stacey Welch, 50, also a resident of Harvard Court, was getting in his car on the way to work at the Hereford House. A Black man who has seen his community ravaged by COVID-19 and its economic fallout, he also believes enthusiasm for this election is high.

“It’s been kind of rough out here,” he said. “I was lucky. I was an essential worker, I never stopped working through COVID, but most of the employees were laid off.’

Just around the bend in the driveway at Harvard Court, Debra Harris, 69, was brushing the snow off of her car.

“We need to get Donald Trump out of office,” she says. “It’s amazing to me how much racism and misogynistic tendencies are at play right now. I’m 69 years old and have not experienced that before.”

She says the divisive rhetoric has contributed to the racial tension and violence across the country, particularly among people of color. And it's motivated them to vote.

“I think they’ll carpool, be mailing in their votes, any avenue that’s open to them,” she says with a chuckle.

Laura Ziegler
Panthea Steele and Casey Hatcher say things were getting better for them before the Trump administration came into office. "Now things have deteriorated," Hatcher says, citing the pandemic, the economy and relations with police. Steele says she sees young people excited to vote, including her 19-year-old daughter.

Panthea Steele, 38 and Casey Hatcher, 46, believe the confluence of the pandemic, the economic decline — both suffered disproportionately by communities of color — as well as the police killing of Black people have energized Black voters nationwide.

Steele, who worked in a retirement community, has been unemployed since the beginning of the pandemic. Without a paycheck, the utility company cut off her heat.

“I’m in debt, my apartment is cold,” she said. “It’s snowing out here.”

After the couple finished their own two-month quarantine, they began delivering food and supplies to neighbors, many elderly.

“(This president) knew about COVID,” Hatcher says. “He didn’t let the American people know in time. Him or Mike Pence.”

Steele and Hatcher are encouraged by election enthusiasm, especially among young people. Steele says her 19-year-old daughter is excited to vote.

“She’s like, ‘Mama, who do I gotta vote for?'" Steele says. “I told her ‘If you don’t know, you vote for who you want as an independent.’”

Fewer than 50% of young people voted in 2016. Hatcher sees that changing this year.

“They’re actually listening to their parents and grandparents this year,” he says. “This pandemic has got everyone upset. We’ve just got to wear our masks, social distance, and vote, to come together like we always do.”

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions. Email me at lauraz@kcur.org and follow me on Twitter @laurazig.
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