Election Day in the heart of Lincoln
Editor’s note: Students in the Journalism 302 advanced reporting class have been writing stories about the people and issues in Lincoln’s six core neighborhoods as part of the One Project, One College project. They spent Tuesday in the neighborhoods of Belmont, Clinton, Everett, Hartley, Near South and University Place to find out what people were talking and thinking about on Election Day. This story is part of a series about the people and issues in Lincoln’s six most diverse and economically challenged neighborhoods.
Voting is compulsory for liquor store cashier
The doorbell chimed at Amen’s Liquor Store in Belmont and a wiry little mutt bounced over to the door.
“AJ, come back here and get a treat,” said Jill Podraza, 52, as she buzzed in another customer.
Podraza rode out her cashier shift by watching “The Steve Wilkos Show” on the shop’s television, playing with her dog AJ and chatting with customers as they passed through. Quitting time was just a few hours away, and Podraza knew she had to stop by her polling place on the way home.
“Election Day sucks,” she said. “The political ads are as annoying as Christmas ads. I can’t wait for it to be over.”
Despite her disillusionment with the trappings of politics, Podraza said she will always vote.
“It’s our right,” she said. “We get so excited to get our licenses on our 16th birthdays, and we should get just as pumped to vote on our 18th.”
— Samantha Biel
“Moderate” college student wonders about change
As 23-year-old Brad Martins walked out the doors of his Park Middle School polling station in the Everett neighborhood, he tossed his “I Voted” sticker in the trash can.
It was an unconscious act almost symbolic of his attitude about Tuesday’s elections.
“I don’t really think anything is going to change here (in Nebraska), and I’m not really excited about this election,” he said.
The freshman nutrition science major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln served a stint in the Marine Corps, where he said he watched U.S. politicians go further down their respective aisles.
“Even the local guys here, I just don’t like it,” he said. “I’m a moderate, and everyone is going further to the left or getting more conservative. I just can’t see how anything can get done.”
— Ellis Clopton
Best friends “vote” together in Near South
Even though Mary Heng had already sent in her absentee ballot, she went to a Near South polling place to support her roommate and best friend, Mary Woodruff, as she voted.
Voting is exciting, the 20-year-old Heng said. Her father made the importance of voting loud and clear by taking her with him to vote whenever he could.
“When it really comes down to it the only real change I can make is by making my voice officially heard through my vote,” Heng said.
As she walked away from the polls after voting at the Lancaster Manor Rehab Center, Woodruff, 21, said she was hopeful for change.
She hopes that the officials who are elected into office will listen to both sides and try to problem solve, keeping everyone in mind instead of staying with party lines.
“I think a lot of problems can be solved if we work together,” she said. “Someone has to bridge this gap between the two different sides.”
— Sophia Nocera
Dedicated voter bikes to the polls
Rich Kazbec braved a brisk wind as he rode a bicycle to his polling place in the morning.
“I think it is important to vote in the midterms because if you don’t believe that someone is doing a good job, it is time to vote for someone new to be put in, no matter the party affiliation,” he said, standing outside American Lutheran Church on Vine and 42nd streets
Kazbec, born and raised in Lincoln, has voted in every election – primaries, midterms and presidential — since he turned 18.
“It is a privilege and a right for all Americans,” he said. “They should vote to show support for our own country and our own state.
This year, he moved to the Hartley neighborhood and had to change his address on his voter registration, but the process was “as simple as pie,” he said.
After casting his ballot, Kazbec got back on his bike and peddled off to do some shopping for a birthday present for his mother, whom, he noted, was also voting today.
– Emily McMinn
Waiter influenced by family voting tradition
Spike’s Beach Bar and Grill in the Belmont neighborhood was empty at 4 p.m. Employees were sitting at the bar top, polishing tables, and chatting in the back corner twisting dish rags between anxious fingers. Among them, 46-year-old Dave Sutko leaned against the counter and waited for the dinner time rush.
There were probably a lot of things on his mind — how many customers he was going to serve, how long it would take his shift to end and when, exactly, he would get the chance to vote.
Because Sutko was going to vote.
Originally from Omaha, Sutko’s family taught him the importance of voting, he said To him, voting is a choice and a chance to voice opinions to elected officials; it’s also about being part of the community.
“No one individually inspires me to vote, but anyone in the military who’s given up their own life does.”
— Monica Uzpen
Artist worries about presidential power
Frank, a black and white pug, scurried around the Lux Center for the Arts on North 48th Street in University Place while his owner, McKenzie Phelps, 25, worked on an art project.
Phelps, who lives in Omaha, said she was feeling hopeful about the outcome of the election – but then she felt hopeful in 2016, too.
“I was very confident the last time I voted, and I’m not feeling as confident this time,” she said.
Medical insurance is very much on her mind, said Phelps, who works for the non-profit art organization and relies on the Affordable Care Act for health care coverage. She also worries about her father, who also lives in Omaha and is disabled.
But it was the divisive rhetoric of President Donald Trump that motivated her to vote, she said. She wants to have a check on presidential power.
“I’m scared about all the violence.” she said. “We need to have a check on the balance of power he has.”
— Seth Marshall
Woman votes for the unborn
A steady stream of people slowly trickled in and out of F Street Recreation Center in the Everett neighborhood as Nicole Graham, 20, wearing a pro-life T-shirt, entered the polling place to vote.
“I voted in the 2016 presidential election, but this is the first midterm election I’m voting in, so I’m pretty excited,” she said. “Voting is a great way to make your voice heard so I think it’s super important that everyone gets out and votes today.”
Graham, originally from small-town Stanton, Iowa, said she’s voting because of issues that became important to her when she moved to a big city with diverse people.
“I’m voting to make sure that our country stays Republican because abortion needs to be outlawed everywhere,” she said. “These unborn babies need to have a chance at life, and if we become Democrat ,that’s not going to happen, so I’m making sure I’m doing my part.”
— Kristen Seidl
Grad student likes voting in person
University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate student Devin McLean walked out of Cedars Northbridge Community Center on 27th Street as a convert of sorts.
Tuesday was the first time has voted in person.
He cast his vote around 1 p.m. in the Clinton neighborhood polling place so he could skip the lines he heard were bad earlier in the morning.
He said he kept hearing from people who told him it’s better to vote in person than by absentee ballot – and now he agrees.
“It was fun,” he said. “I was just lucky there were no lines.”
Regardless of the voting method, McLean, who is studying architecture, said he sees this midterm as an important because it determines Congress for the next two years.
“It’s contingent on a lot of members of Congress and the overall makeup of it,” he said.
– Sara Kline
Indonesian ponders “curious” U.S. elections
Irwin Panguripan has witnessed three Election Days since arriving in the U.S. as an international student from Indonesia shortly after Obama’s re-election, and he said each one gets more curious.
The 25-year-old researcher at NeoGen said he’s grown increasingly concerned at how many Americans have formed cults of personalities around candidates, whether it be the nationalist fervor rallying behind Donald Trump or the massive national online support of Democratic senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke of Texas.
“Back home, all the parties form coalitions and make candidates that way so there’s a nice mix of policies for us to vote for,” he said, while standing in line at Guerrero’s Grocery in the Everett neighborhood. “But it’s weird here. The right is going further to the right just to follow Trump, and they’re doing it because they like him, not because they agree with his ideas.”
— Ellis Clopton
Political issues weigh heavily on Wesleyan students
Theater majors Maddie Wurth and McKenzie Petterson braced the cold as they happily exited the Elder Theatre Center at Nebraska Wesleyan University, but theater was the last thing on their minds.
For Petterson, a senior, immigration is the biggest issue facing the country today.
“It can’t settle right in my stomach what is happening to people along the border and in our country in general,” she said. “There’s a lot of social injustice.”
Wurth said she believes gun control is the biggest issue facing the United States.
“It’s always stood out to me,” she said.
With all of the critical issues facing the country, Wurth, a junior, said voting is paramount.
“It’s important for people my age to get their voices out there and their voices heard,” she said.
— Faith Idachaba
Voter feels good about waiting in line
Laura Fortney was wearing her voting sticker as she helped customers at Bodhi Imports, 1645 S 17th St. in the Near South.
Fortney, assistant manager of the small import shop, voted at Westminster Presbyterian Church at 9 a.m. before she had to come in to the store to open.
She had to wait in line, unlike past years, but she said she was excited to see so many people voting.
“I noticed I was number 82, already an hour in so I felt good about that.”
— Stephanie Paul
Woman needs no reminder to vote
Kate Smith stands behind the counter at The Bay’s coffee shop making coffee for customers, proudly wearing her “I Voted” sticker.
The owners of The Bay, a non-profit located in the Clinton neighborhood, made it a point to remind the staff to go vote.
Smith didn’t need the reminder.
“I try to make it a point to vote in all elections, whether it is a presidential or midterm,” she said.
This midterm is especially important for her, she said, because she wants to see incumbent Sen. Deb Fischer lose her seat to Democratic challenger Jane Raybould.
Smith said she’d like to see Omaha and Lincoln voters push the state blue.
“I have hope in the more urban areas.”
— Sara Kline
Shopper stresses importance of voting
Maggie McCoy was looking for a pair of classic washed-out baggy jeans at the Goodwill store in the Near South neighborhood.
It was about 6 p.m., and McCoy, 22, was one of the few in the store who wasn’t wearing an “I Voted” sticker.
She said she hadn’t voted yet, but planned to later when she headed back to Omaha.
McCoy said she had plenty of time. It’s about a 50-minute drive that she said she could do blindfolded because she does it every day.
“Living at home in Omaha and going to school in Lincoln definitely has its pros and cons, but I wouldn’t miss voting in this election for anything.”
She wants college students to realize how important it is for them to vote this year because they are voting for the future.
“Being surrounded by college students for the last few years has opened me up to a lot of different viewpoints I otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to, which definitely had an influence on my vote.”
— Madisyn Hahn