Amer­ica votes: We asked vot­ers if, and why, they’ll head to polls.

The midterms are here; we vis­ited nine states to ask vot­ers if they are go­ing to the polls on Tues­day — and why

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - — In­tro text by Ann Ger­hart By Michael Robin­son Chavez, Melina Mara, Bon­nie Jo Mount; Ack­er­man + Gruber, Bran­don Dill, Char­lotte Kesl and Ilana Panich­Linsman

In the end, af­ter the ral­lies and robo-calls and an­gry rhetoric, the ci­ti­zens have the fi­nal word, and the only word. They speak it in early vot­ing and ab­sen­tee bal­lots and on Elec­tion Day; as of Satur­day, more than 33 mil­lion had al­ready voted in the midterms. Or they stay silent by not vot­ing at all. Amer­i­cans are lousy at vot­ing, ac­tu­ally. Com­pared to other de­vel­oped coun­tries, the United States ranked 26th out of 32 when the Pew Re­search Cen­ter an­a­lyzed par­tic­i­pa­tion in the 2016 elec­tions around the world. But there looks to be record in­ter­est in the elec­tions this year, and there’s cer­tainly a lot of spec­u­la­tion about the spike in ac­tiv­ity. To hear from Amer­i­cans di­rectly, pho­tog­ra­phers for The Wash­ing­ton Post went to nine states and sim­ply asked them: Are you vot­ing? And why?

Michelle Weston New­port Beach, Calif.

“I’m not go­ing to vote. I get this feel­ing there is no solid op­tion. There is neg­a­tiv­ity on both sides. All I am do­ing is par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pop­u­lar­ity con­test, not re­ally vot­ing on is­sues,” says Weston, 27, who is mar­ried and runs her own au­to­mo­tive bro­ker­ship. “I voted for the pres­i­dent in 2016. I al­ways vote on the Repub­li­can side, it was im­por­tant for me to do that one thing. Be­ing con­ser­va­tive in a Demo­cratic state, it was im­por­tant to make that state­ment.”

Terry Ab­bott Smithers, W. Va.

“I’ve been a coal miner for 48 years. Worked up and down that lad­der. Es­pe­cially im­por­tant this year to vote. I am not a fan of Don­ald Trump at all. He may be our pres­i­dent, but he is not my leader. I don’t fol­low him. He’s a dis­as­ter. I don’t un­der­stand how women can vote for him in the way he treats other women. And we can’t vote for peo­ple who sup­port him here in West Virginia . . . . But we are go­ing to set them straight this time, I be­lieve.”

Christina Danz, with her daugh­ter, Amelia Gainesville, Ga.

“I had a baby. And ev­ery­thing kinda changed for me. I need to make a dif­fer­ence. And my vote counts. And I want it to count for her,” says Danz, 22, a col­lege stu­dent ma­jor­ing in chem­istry. “I’ll be her voice un­til she is old enough to vote. I didn’t vote in the last elec­tion. I should have. And now I am pay­ing for it. I will al­ways vote from now on. Now I un­der­stand the im­por­tance of it. And Amelia sit­ting right here is the im­por­tance of vot­ing.”

Wil­liam “Bolts” Willis Smithers, W. Va.

“Pol­i­tics con­trols the roads we ride on, the air we breathe, the water we drink,” says the now­re­tired Willis, a coal miner like his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther. “You bet­ter get in­volved in elec­tions. Or you are go­ing to lose those things you value. So you bet­ter vote!”

Me­gan Hat­field Ham­lin, W. Va.

“It is al­ways im­por­tant to do your civic duty and vote, but it is even more im­por­tant than ever,” says the high school math teacher. “The last bal­lot didn’t have can­di­dates that sup­ported teach­ers and ser­vice per­son­nel. We need law­mak­ers that will work to­ward fix­ing our in­sur­ance and our salaries . . . . Repub­li­can or Demo­crat, it doesn’t mat­ter. Choose a can­di­date that sup­ports your views. I am look­ing for a can­di­date that is pro­ed­u­ca­tion and will pro­tect my rights as woman.”

Kelly Pasch Nashville

“I’m reg­is­tered, but hon­estly haven’t kept up.” Pasch doesn’t plan to vote.

Greg Mitchell Nashville

“I’m older than I look, and I feel vot­ing is a duty,” says Mitchell, who voted early. “I’ve al­ways said if you don’t vote you’ve got noth­ing to com­plain about.”

Car­men Gor­gas Aurora, Colo.

“I just love this coun­try, and I want what is best for it,” says Gor­gas, 79, who was born in Cuba. “And ev­ery vote counts. Who­ever thinks that ‘well, it won’t make a dif­fer­ence if I don’t vote,’ no. It will make a dif­fer­ence. And I like to make a good dif­fer­ence.”

Car­los Diaz Or­lando

“I’m vot­ing to make sure that my ex­is­tence won’t be erased, that my voice has value,” says Diaz, 32, who came from Puerto Rico in 2014. “I’m way more than just be­ing gay — I’m Latino, I’m queer, I’m here and those things make me spe­cial. And to make sure that my peo­ple are pro­tected in the fu­ture.”

Eden Hardy Gainesville, Ga.

“I come from a very con­ser­va­tive back­ground. Go­ing here to a lib­eral arts col­lege has al­lowed me to open my mind to feel em­pa­thy for oth­ers,” says Hardy, 19, a fresh­man at Bre­nau Univer­sity. “Peo­ple be­ing taken off the . . . rolls is not what this coun­try was founded on. Be an ed­u­cated voter. I’ll be not only at­tend­ing this Stacey Abrams rally but [will] also go to lis­ten to Brian Kemp. So I can hear both sides of the is­sues.”

Aisha Yaqoob Du­luth, Ga.

“Ad­vo­cat­ing for im­mi­grants has made me un­der­stand how im­pact­ful it is when you have peo­ple in gov­ern­ment, in power, who look like the com­mu­ni­ties they are mak­ing the de­ci­sions about,” says Yaqoob, 25, run­ning for a State House seat in Ge­or­gia. She got in­volved first in out­reach “be­cause I re­al­ized my Mus­lim com­mu­nity had no idea what was hap­pen­ing . . . they had no in­ter­est in vot­ing.”

Kyle Gomez­Leinewe­ber Gainesville, Ga.

“I didn’t feel the sense of ur­gency in 2016 like I do now. It isn’t just fill­ing in a bub­ble on a bal­lot sheet. It means some­thing to vote,” says Gomez­Leinewe­ber, 21, the Bre­nau Col­lege Democrats pres­i­dent. “My fa­ther and fam­ily are Mex­i­can im­mi­grants, and it is heart­break­ing to think how many kids could lose their par­ents. Also to bring a sense of dig­nity back. We don’t know how to treat peo­ple any­more.”

Amy Ramirez Austin

“I al­ready voted . . . done. First day,” says Ramirez, 32. “There’s a lot of folks that fought for the right to vote; we owe it to them. Also if we don’t pay at­ten­tion to what's go­ing on and vote and voice what we want with our vote, then we’re not go­ing to be rep­re­sented. I hope that we can get some great folks in Congress that are go­ing to put a check on the pres­i­dency and change the way pol­i­tics are right now. Folks that are run­ning grass roots cam­paigns are do­ing a great job. That’s re­ally im­por­tant to me to not have cor­po­rate money in­flu­ence our elec­tions.”

Natasha Harper­Madi­son Austin

“I will ab­so­lutely be vot­ing, be­cause it is my right, and I be­lieve in ex­er­cis­ing my right,” says HarperMadi­son, 41, a city coun­cil can­di­date. “Some­thing I love to point out is Austin is an old enough city to have made a ton of mis­takes, but a young enough city to get it right.”

Ron Thorn­ton New­berry, Fla.

“I wasn’t a Trump sup­porter at the be­gin­ning, he both­ered me with his mouth. We just didn’t want Hil­lary,” says the re­tired Univer­sity of Florida fac­ulty mem­ber, son of a share­crop­per. He’s 79 and con­ser­va­tive. “The con­trast be­tween Gil­lum and DeSan­tis is mas­sive — we’re on pins and nee­dles. Work­ing in pol­i­tics is a real chal­lenge. It’s re­ally dif­fi­cult to honor all those tenets of the Bi­ble.”

Tamecka Pierce Or­lando

“I think it’s very im­por­tant for the felons’ rights cam­paign to push through. It’s go­ing to change the whole po­lit­i­cal scene and the de­mo­graph­ics of the state of Florida. It’s 2018 and to have 1.4 mil­lion [un­able to vote] is ab­surd,” says Pierce, 44, who says po­lice mis­con­duct led to her 1999 ar­rest. She be­came an ac­tivist af­ter get­ting out of jail in 2001. “You have black and browns and poor whites that are be­ing dis­en­fran­chised, and that’s just not fair and they’re do­ing it on pur­pose so that they can get the votes.”

Les An­der­son Welch, Minn.

“I think it is pretty crit­i­cal [to vote] be­cause of the di­rec­tion of the coun­try,” says An­der­son, a farmer. “I am a Trump sup­porter and I am wor­ried about im­mi­gra­tion and the sanc­tu­ary state sit­u­a­tion.”

Elizabeth Ort­giesen Ply­mouth, Minn.

“I am vot­ing be­cause there’s ev­i­dence to prove that 19­to­26 don’t get out to vote,’’ says Ort­giesen, 19, “and that has huge im­pacts on poli­cies that are made in Wash­ing­ton and in our lo­cal gov­ern­ment. So I am here to make a change be­cause my voice mat­ters.”

Joseph Ray­mond Gon­za­lez Roa Los An­ge­les

“I’ve never voted be­fore; I’m very ex­cited.” Roa, 18, got caught up in gangs, put on pro­ba­tion and now is back in school. He has been phone­bank­ing to get out the vote. “I’ve al­ways had this flame in­side of me to take part in the im­prove­ment of my com­mu­nity, the world as a whole. I’m re­ally into that: jus­tice over­all.”

Dawn Perkins and Mike Ban­nis­ter Nashville

“I have a lot of is­sues with pol­i­tics right now. There’s so much back­stab­bing. It feels like [vot­ing] doesn’t mat­ter at all,” says Ban­nis­ter. Nei­ther he nor Perkins is go­ing to vote. “I don’t vote be­cause the elec­toral sys­tem needs some over­haul.” His own vote “doesn’t carry much weight.”

BON­NIE JO MOUNT/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

"“I’m out here be­cause the flag is big­ger than pol­i­tics,” says Curt Cook, of Den­ver, wav­ing the flag from an over­pass along In­ter­state 25 out­side Cas­tle Rock, Colo., on Oct. 28. “I do it for the Democrats. I do it for the Repub­li­cans.” The flag rep­re­sents Amer­i­cans of “all dif­fer­ent races, types, shapes, forms and ev­ery­thing.” Vot­ing does, too: “It’s the most pa­tri­otic thing you can do.”

MICHAEL ROBIN­SON CHAVEZ/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

A bill­board is­sues a one­word or­der to mo­torists along Michi­gan’s Route 69, out­side Flint, on Oct. 29.

MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

BRAN­DON DILL FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

BRAN­DON DILL FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

BRAN­DON DILL FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Pedes­tri­ans, scoot­ers and cars make Broad­way in down­town Nashville a bustling place on Oct. 24.

CHAR­LOTTE KESL FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

BON­NIE JO MOUNT/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

A dog’s in a hurry along a street in the old coal min­ing town of Mont­gomery, W. Va., on Oct. 14.

ILANA PANICH-LINSMAN FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

CHAR­LOTTE KESL FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

ILANA PANICH-LINSMAN FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

CHAR­LOTTE KESL FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

MICHAEL ROBIN­SON CHAVEZ/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

A fa­ther and son who asked to re­main uniden­ti­fied look at the United States through the bor­der fence sep­a­rat­ing Playa de Ti­juana, Mex­ico, and San Diego, on Oct. 26.

ACK­ER­MAN + GRUBER FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

BRAN­DON DILL FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

MICHAEL ROBIN­SON CHAVEZ/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

ACK­ER­MAN + GRUBER FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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