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‘This year, I had my say’: New and last-minute voters turn out by the thousands in Spokane area

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 3, 2020

This bumper sticker is on display at St. Thomas Center in Coeur d’Alene on Tuesday.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
This bumper sticker is on display at St. Thomas Center in Coeur d’Alene on Tuesday. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

At 7:49 p.m. on Election Day, Kathy Zinnecker was one of the last people to get in line to get a ballot and vote in the 2020 election in Spokane.

Zinnecker almost didn’t vote out of frustration with the presidential candidates this year, and almost didn’t have the chance to after she moved and wasn’t able to update her address before the election. She arrived at the Spokane Arena Voter Service Center for a new ballot and got in line with 10 minutes to spare. After careful consideration, she said she planned to cast her ballot for Joe Biden.

“I don’t think there’s a good choice here,” she said, “but (Donald) Trump’s an idiot.”

Zinnecker was one of thousands of Spokane County voters who went to the county’s Voter Service Center or CenterPlace in Spokane Valley to register to vote or replace a lost or damaged ballot.

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said the surge would likely break turnout and registration records from 2016 and before, but data may not be available for a few days.

“It’s going to be record-breaking,” Dalton said. “It’s just by how much.”

Throughout the day, a line of new voters or voters with ballot issues wound around the building. Just before deadline, the number of people seeking assistance with voting dwindled and only a few dozen were still in line. Those people were still able to register or get new ballots if they lost their previous ballots.

As of 8 p.m. on election night, 2,473 people had visited the voters Service Center and an unknown number of people visited the voter center at CenterPlace. Meanwhile, as of 8:15 p.m. on Nov. 3, the turnout was about 71.2% for Spokane County.

Jessica Griffin was one of many in Spokane County who visited the arena voter center to cast their first vote on Election Day.

Griffin, a Cheney resident, said she initially planned to vote for Trump, believing his policies would do the most for the economy. But she said after seeing on the news that his administration had put immigrant children in cages, Griffin, a Black woman and mother, couldn’t go through with voting for him.

Griffin grew up in foster care and said she remembers what it’s like to be taken away from family. She said she’s hoping her vote for Biden will put the country on the path to healing.

“(Trump’s) a businessman and he would grow this country’s economy,” she said, “but we need healing, and he wouldn’t do that.”

Teri Lavoie, who was also at the Spokane Arena Voter Center on Election Day, said she was afraid not to vote for Trump. Lavoie, a Spokane resident, said under the Trump administration, she went from being on food stamps to owning her own house cleaning business and now has some money in savings. She fears a Biden presidency could make her economic progress disappear and is afraid of ending up on public benefits again.

“After four years of Trump, I can pay my bills,” she said. “I don’t know what direct impact he had, but I’m doing better.”

More than half of the voters interviewed at the Spokane Arena Voters Service Center said they were voting for Biden, with many saying their vote was a reaction to Trump, instead of an endorsement of Biden’s character or policies.

Others said they voted for Trump with apprehension, acknowledging many of his public statements and actions made them uncomfortable or doubt their support. The majority interviewed leaving the Spokane Valley Voter Service Center said they were voting for Trump, with some enthusiastically supporting him and his economic policies.

Lamya Johnson, 31, felt genuinely torn between the two candidates because she saw issues with both.

“You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t,” Johnson said.

She declined to say who she planned to vote for, saying she was trying to keep an open mind and understand where the candidates were coming from.

Jay Pemble, 60, also visited the Spokane Arena voter services center to vote for the first time Tuesday. Pemble said he considered his vote for Trump a vote against Democrats. He said he disliked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and he’s been frustrated by all the investigation of Trump in Congress, and the impeachment.

“The Democrats have wasted four years trying to get rid of one guy instead of helping the American people,” he said.

He said he also worried that a vote for Biden would actually be a vote for Kamala Harris, because he does not believe Biden will really serve a four-year term if he wins.

Patrina Spotted-Blanket, 49, and her daughter Alliah Spotted-Blanket, 20, drove from the Spokane Indian Reservation to visit the Voter Services Center in Spokane and vote for the first time Tuesday.

Patrina Spotted-Blanket said she worried that if they did not vote, current political leaders would be able to continue to degrade the environment. She called the way Trump spoke about women, and people with disabilities, shameful, saying she believes the president should be modeling good behavior for the rest of the country.

She said she also felt they both needed to vote this year because it’s important for members of tribes to make their voices heard, and advocate to preserve their lands for the next generation.

“We’re slowly still being wiped out because we’re not standing up, using our voices and voting,” Patrina Spotted-Blanket said. “We still have to hold onto our sovereignty, and our land, so our children will be left with something.”

Noah Segal, 24, registered to vote for the first time after pressure from family and friends, Republican and Democrat, to participate in this election.

He said he ended up voting for Biden, which he sees as more of a vote against Trump than an endorsement of Biden.

DeGeo Schultz, 46, waited an hour in line to get into the Voter Services Center at the arena to replace his lost ballot. He said it took him a long time to decide who he would vote for this election because Trump lacks the moral character Schultz believes all leaders should show, but he also believes Trump’s economic policies will be good for the country as a whole.

“When I think of a president, he should be an upstanding person,” Schultz said. “I don’t see that in him. It was hard, very hard, to come to a decision.”

Schultz said he did end up casting a ballot for Trump, though he does not personally like him.

“I made my decision not based on how I felt about the person, but what they could do for this country,” he said.

Others, such as Ben Jackson, who was in line an hour, enthusiastically supported Trump.

Jackson said he hasn’t voted since 1987 and was in line to try and get registered again. He said the rhetoric in this election and fears that Democrats could take too much power inspired him to try and vote again. He said he believes Trump is trying his best to grow the economy and combat the coronavirus.

September Htoo, 20, also visited the Spokane Arena to vote for the first time. Htoo said she was also the first person in her family to vote, and planned to vote for both Gov. Jay Inslee and Biden in hopes that they’ll change the country for the better.

Htoo, an Eastern Washington University student, voted with a friend, Nawpaw Knyaw, 21, who goes to the University of Washington and has voted once before.

Knyaw said she wanted to vote for candidates who take climate change seriously and ended up voting for Biden.

At the Spokane Valley voting centers, most voters said they planned to vote for Trump.

Spokane Valley resident Andrew Beecher, 41, said both he and his wife voted for Trump and wanted to put their ballots in the ballot box on election day because they feared voting by mail may not be safe.

He said Trump is a leader and his economic policies over the past four years have worked. Beecher said the economy has improved under Trump, he personally is more secure financially and believes four more years is what’s best for the economy.

“We’re doing better than under Obama,” he said.

Mackenzie Heath, 27, visited the Spokane Valley Voter Services Center to cast her ballot for Trump as well. Heath said there are too many members of the Democratic party who identify as socialists and she worries that, though Biden isn’t socialist, enough Democrats are now that it could shift the country in that direction.

Heath brought her 1-year-old son when she went to the voting center Tuesday, and said her vote was also a reflection of the world she wants her son to grow up in.

Robert Harris, 35, cast his first ballot for Trump and for governor candidate Loren Culp.

He said he believes those two candidates can change the system, and said he liked Trump’s persona and feels that he can relate to voters and speaks in a way that’s easy to understand.

“I like the way he treats us, and how he talks,” Harris said. “The way he speaks, he sees us eye-to-eye.”

Other first-time voters who visited the valley services center, such as Otabia Losalla, are vehemently against Trump.

Losalla said Trump brought “four years of crap” on the country and believes the president has used his office to enrich himself, instead of representing the American people.

“I’ve seen my fair share of presidents, but this one, we have to change,” Losalla said. “This year, I had my say.”

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