It was 80 degrees in Redding, California today as voters lined up at the local polling station to cast their votes in the 2020 presidential election.
Voters were ushered into one of three lines: registered voters who brought a completed ballot, registered voters who had not yet filled out a ballot, and unregistered voters who could register and then vote (California has same-day voting registration).
“Vote for Trump!” people shouted at the voters from passing cars.
California is known for its far left political leanings, found in strong blue cities like LA and San Francisco, and represented in DC by the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris. But there is a red stronghold in the north, where life is slower and more rural, far from the cities.
Redding is the seat of Shasta County, split in half by I-5 and surrounded to the east, north, and west by mountains. It is hot and it is dry. I arrived here in July and I have seen rain twice in the four months since (as a Puget Sound native, I feel I might disintegrate into dust any day now).
On Saturday, hundreds of Redding residents participated in a “Trump train” through the city, proudly declaring their support for the President in a vehicular parade.
As I drove to Redding’s downtown polling location this afternoon, I passed a large flatbed truck sporting a “TRUMP 2020” poster on its side and dozens of patriotic flags flying from its bed. Before the end of the day, I would see several pickup trucks flying American flags and “Trump 2020” flags from their windows.
While some voters expressed that they were in a hurry – having sacrificed of their crunched time to cast their vote – several were willing to stop for a few moments to answer questions about what this election means to them.
One woman leaving the polling place with her young son told me that her main concern for this election is seeing Republicans and Democrats unite to respond to COVID-19. She voiced fear of civil war among extremist groups on both sides of the aisle. She said she doesn’t align with either party.
A man in his 20s said that getting money back into the hands of the people was his main concern in this election. He also listed COVID, racism, and environmental issues. California has experienced one of the worst wildfire seasons in recent history this year, and 4,100 firefighters are still battling 22 wildfires in the state. He said the state needs to stop over-protecting its forests, allowing underbrush to grow to dangerous degrees that result in worse fires.
As I spoke with this young man, a truck passed on the road, honked its horn, and a passenger yelled, “Vote Trump 2020!” My interviewee chuckled.
As for post-election violence, he said that he thinks people are “pooped out” from destroying local businesses.
Others said they are concerned about violence, one woman also voicing concern for small businesses that would be caught in the cross-fire. COVID was very low in her list of concerns. If people lived healthier lifestyles, she argued, they wouldn’t have to be in such fear of a virus.
I spoke with two girls who voted for the first time today. They said they wanted their votes to count, that they understood that even one vote can make the difference.
One woman told me her greatest hope was to see everyone treated equally. She listed Black Lives Matter, systemic racism, and a woman’s right to choose as the driving factors behind her vote today.
She was the only voter I spoke with who referenced issues that regularly align with the Democratic ticket.
Three men walked past me at one point wearing red “MAGA” hats. A woman yelled from her passing vehicle, “Hey, wear a mask!” and flipped them off. She smiled. Perhaps she knew them. Perhaps it was a light-hearted joke. Whatever the case, it was a great illustration of our current political divide, especially surrounding this year’s pandemic.
A man and woman in their 30s with their young son stopped to speak with me. When I asked what their hopes were for the election and the next four years, the man responded, “Keep America great.” As for the issues they were most concerned about, the woman said “They’re definitely not taking my guns.”
The man stated he was “lucky enough to vote against Hillary Clinton” in 2016.
America goes to bed tonight still uncertain of who the next president will be. Key states like Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin have yet to be called.
But no matter which way the nation leans this time around, Shasta County appears to remain the Republican stronghold of California.