Shortly after the polls opened on Election Day in Baltimore, Maryland, the music began: as people stood in line to vote, jams by Frankie Beverly and Maze, classics from Motown and hits by the great Michael Jackson wafted through the chilly morning air.
Indeed, the atmosphere was festive. A food truck offered free cupcakes and bottled water. Multiple volunteers doled out masks, hand sanitizer and popcorn. A Black Lives Matter banner flapped in the wind, as did dozens of candidate signs for local and national races.
This particular scene played out at Edmondson High School, one of two-dozen consolidated “vote centers” in this predominantly African American city of 602,000 residents. Lines were long as voters made a robust showing, part of a wave of record voting nationwide.
In fact, more than 2.2 million Marylanders did early voting or mail-in voting, according to Board of Election figures. “We had record turnout with early voting,” said Prince George’s County Executive, Angela Alsobrooks, who leads one of the richest Black subdivisions in America.
“Thankfully, people listened to advice and voted early and safely. That participation was really important, because we were one of the jurisdictions where the Black and Brown community was hit hardest by COVID. Still, our voter participation was strong.”
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Maryland, historically a heavily Democratic “blue” state, currently has Larry Hogan, a Republican governor and both suburban and rural communities that skew conservative and “red.” In many ways, it’s a microcosm of America and cities such as Baltimore offer a snapshot of Black America.
Besides the presidential election, Baltimore voters selected a new Mayor in Brandon Scott. And Maryland’s 7th District Congressional seat, once held by the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, was won by a landslide with 72 percent of the vote after incumbent Rep. Kweisi Mfume beat Kimberly Klacik. Mfume is a a nationally known Democrat who previously held the seat before becoming president/CEO of the NAACP while Klacik is a Black Republican who’s gotten a boost of support from Trump and raised millions after her campaign video went viral.
“I always vote and this is the biggest election of my time,” said Dante Jones, a business owner. “I voted because it’s time for a change.”
Specifically, Jones was backing the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris ticket over incumbent President Donald Trump and vice president Mike Pence. He’s disappointed in the way Trump has handled everything from foreign policy to race relations. “It’s time for Trump and his rhetoric to go,” Jones said. “He spews ignorance. Our international relationships are horrible. It’s 2020 and we’re still dealing with the same craziness around race, things that date back to the King era. It’s a shame.”
Audrey McMillan voted by mail, which she says was “effortless,” but was at the polling site to hand out snacks to voters as they waited. While politely declining to reveal exactly whom she voted for, there were hints that it wasn’t the current occupant of the White House.
“Immigration is a big issue for me,” said McMillan. “I don’t understand how as a nation we can separate children from their parents. Anyone who can do that with no compunction, isn’t fit for office.”
McMillan also believes that the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to more than 232,000 deaths, has been poorly handled. “You can’t tell me only the strong survive. You can’t tell me you’ve done a good job when all these people are dying.”
Irvin Sutton voted early, requesting a ballot by mail and dropping it off in an official dropbox. The married father of three didn’t mince words about Trump. “I cannot deal with the nut in the White House,” he said. “From day one, he was talking about grabbing women by the p–y. We need certain standards. It’s time for him to go.”
Yet Dustin Hall indicated he would likely vote for Trump. He believes the 45th president has handled the economy well, particularly issues such as job creation. “It’s not about Democrats or Republicans,” he said.
Darren McDonald Jr., 41, was excited to vote for the Biden/ Harris ticket because he favored the California Senator early in the Democratic primary process. “Harris was my first choice, and I was heartbroken when she originally stepped out of the race.”
McDonald is anxious to see a Democrat in the White House gain. “I’ve not been a fan of Trump’s policies on health care, the environment, and immigration. And it bothers me that he’s friendly with foreign dictators like Putin.”
Eleanora “Sandy” Franklin-Forbes had already voted, but she was on hand as a volunteer with the local NAACP, doing voter protection. So was Neatrice Holmes, a local volunteer with the advocacy group, Color of Change. The ladies stayed busy, scouring the crowd to ensure that elders or the disabled were given seats or moved to the front. And while there were a few police officers on hand, they were also on alert for possible voter intimidation.
Indeed, there’ve been rumblings about what could happen depending upon the results. “This democracy is fragile and if we’re not careful it might collapse,” said Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Ph.D., associate professor of African and African American Studies at Loyola University Maryland. Dr. Kaye, who hosts a popular local talk show on WEAA-FM, ticked off a litany of challenges facing the U.S., from racism to Covid-19 to sharply partisan political divisions.
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“I believe the nation is in peril, but not 1861 peril as we were before the Civil War when there were 4 million slaves,” she said. “South Carolina was the first to secede back then. This notion of becoming your own country happened then. Today, states aren’t going to secede. But what I do think is that there will be civil unrest and protests in the streets.”
Ranya Daniel, 19, is a Junior studying architecture and construction management at Morgan State University. This was her first presidential election.
“I’m excited,” she told BET.com. “I consider this the first step in me making a positive change in my community. My vote counts. It’s about civil rights, it’s about human rights and making this country the best it can be.”
(Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images)