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US Voters Fret About Democracy, Polarization Before Election

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Jennifer Quade moved to the rural community from Baltimore more than 20 years ago and says the U.S. is at a crossroads. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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American voters are fractured politically and culturally ahead of Election Day, and they are anxious about where their country is heading — on inflation, abortion, immigration, crime, and much more.

They also sense something more fundamental at stake at a time of rising mistrust of institutions and each other: the future of democracy.

Some Americans remain hopeful, but a fretful outlook emerges from interviews with more than two dozen Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters before Tuesday’s midterm elections — the first since followers of former President Donald Trump tried to halt the certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.

These midterm elections are also the first since the Supreme Court took away a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy, leaving the matter to states.

“This election is hugely consequential,” said Edward Foley, a professor at Ohio State University who directs its election-law program. “It’s a question of where our democracy is and how we are doing with our collective self-governance.”

Midterms are always important because a switch in control of the House or Senate can stunt the plans of a sitting president. Control of Congress could also affect various investigations into Trump, including his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.

Dozens of statewide candidates have said the 2020 election was stolen; some running for positions that validate elections have refused to say if they will certify the 2024 results. And there are already more than 100 legal challenges against this year’s election.

The United States has stood at the precipice before. Not long after Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, 11 states withdrew from the nation and the Civil War began.

Ultimately, Foley said, the election turns on a question: “Can we actually build the system and produce accurate, honest outcomes, and will enough people believe them?”

Here is a sampling of what voters had to say about democracy and other issues:

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COLLEGE STUDENT ‘MOTIVATED TO CHANGE THINGS’

Brian Montes’ Mexican-born parents told him that America is “a shining city on a hill” and urged him to take his responsibility as a U.S. citizen seriously.

Montes, 21, is majoring in political science at Portland State University, and will vote this election for the second time in his life.

Montes was appalled to see election deniers attempt to overturn President Biden’s victory. For him, democracy is on the ballot this November.

“Protecting our democracy truly is … paramount. We can’t really fix climate change, we can’t, you know, help the health care system, we can’t bring relief to students across this country until we have faith in our democracy,” he said.

Montes, who is gay, also worries that political beliefs are now such a part of personal identity that it’s almost impossible to separate politics from hate.

In the past, someone on the other side of an issue simply had “a different perspective as to why or how we can better our country,” he said. “Now it’s whether or not somebody believes you have a right to be here, whether or not somebody believes you have a right to exist. And that is deeply personal.”

But as the first person in his family to vote, Montes is also optimistic in the long-term.

“Our generation is uniquely motivated to change things, to change the systems of now — because the systems of today are the biggest reason we find ourselves in this position,” he said.

— By AP Writer Gillian Flaccus

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ELECTION IS ABOUT ‘ECONOMY, FIRST AND FOREMOST’

Tony Bergida, a 27-year-old father from the Kansas City, Kansas suburb of Olathe, said pocketbook issues carry more weight for him in this election than abortion, transgender rights or the validity of the 2020 presidential election.

Bergida, the chair of the Kansas Young Republicans, cast his ballot in advance and picked Republican Amanda Adkins over the incumbent, Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids.

Democratic ads have focused on abortion protections but the election is “really going to be the economy, first and foremost,” said Bergida, who said his grocery bill has soared over the past two years.

“The cost of living has got to be on everyone’s minds right now.”

Bergida is also opposed to transgender athletes participating in girls’ sports, an issue that’s at play in the Kansas gubernatorial race.

Republicans seeking to keep Democratic incumbent Laura Kelly from a second term have attacked Kelly for vetoing two proposals to ban transgender athletes from girls’ and women’s school and college sports.

“It’s not fair, and it’s not safe for that to happen,” said Bergida, the father of a 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son and a former quarterback at Grinnell College in Iowa.

“I played sports and know what a locker room is like. Um, yeah, I’ve got a big problem with that.”

— By AP Writer Heather Hollingsworth

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WORRIED ABOUT SOCIAL SECURITY, WEALTH DISPARITY

Cynthia Jones was severely injured at work more than a decade ago and has relied on Social Security disability benefits to help pay bills and hold on to the ranch-style house left by her father.

The Atlanta native sees a country split between haves and have nots. She doesn’t have health insurance that could pay for back surgery, but noted that members of Congress get access to health care and a pension. She worries that if Republicans take over Congress they will cut Social Security. (Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida has proposed a plan that would require Congress to adequately fund Social Security and Medicare or consider phasing them out.)

“If you’re poor, you don’t matter,” said the 64-year-old Democratic voter, who is pursuing a master’s degree to be a mental health counselor.

She was also motivated to vote this year by the false claim by Trump and other Republicans that the last presidential election was stolen. She views that lie as an attack on Black and other marginalized voters who cast ballots in large numbers in 2020.

“I feel like they’re trying to put us back on the plantation,” she said of the Republican Party.

That feeling is particularly hard for her. Her parents faced discrimination and financial hardship but were also able to save money and buy their own homes. She doesn’t want the country to backtrack on that progress.

“I don’t want to be not counted,” she said. “I don’t want to be seen as a third-class citizen. I don’t want anybody to feel that way.”

— By AP Writer Sudhin Thanawala

________

PUSHING FOR LATINO TURNOUT, GOOD GOVERNANCE

Ron Flores is a Republican retiree in his 70s who lives in a surf-friendly California beach community not far from the mostly Latino city of Santa Ana, where he lived as a child.

The son of a Mexican immigrant, Flores said he always had an interest in history and politics but didn’t act on it until more recently and last year formed the group “BASTA!,” which is aimed at encouraging Latinos to vote and promoting mostly — but not solely — politically conservative candidates.

“Are you honest? Are you going to do what we want you to do?” he asked. “I support good governance candidates and sometimes it’s on the left, but most of the time, it’s on my right.”

In California, there are measures on the ballot right now about online gambling and abortion. But Flores said there are bigger issues, like how much it costs to fill his car with gas and the rising price of nearly everything.

“That impacts me, number one,” said Flores, who said he raised six children and worked in product design and consulting.

For Congress, Flores said he’s fed up with progressives’ views on social issues so he’s voting for a Republican. But he isn’t thrilled about his choice.

“I’m going to go for the best of the worst,” he said, pinching his nose.

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