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In El Paso, Progressive Voters Consider Whether To Cast A Ballot For Biden

Voter here yard sign in English and Spanish.
Christopher Connelly

For some El Pasoans, the question isn't who to vote for — it's whether to vote at all.

With the Nov. 3 election just a week away, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are making their final cases for why they’re best suited to run the country. But for some El Pasoans, the question isn’t who to vote for — it’s whether to vote at all.

These left-leaning voters don’t support Trump, but they aren’t excited about Biden.

“He doesn’t quite seem as sharp as you would like him to be,” said Chris Sotelo, an assistant manager at Lube ‘n Go.

“During the Democratic primaries, he was having gaffes left and right,” Sotelo said. “He would say things, just dig his own grave and leave people just speechless. Like really? This is who’s going to be running for president?”

Sotelo didn’t vote in the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s victory seemed to affirm his decision.

“Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and because of our electoral college, Trump still won the presidency,” he said. “So that is a bit of a ‘why bother?’”

But Sotelo might head to the polls this year. He says the Trump administration’s nonchalant approach to the coronavirus pandemic is a motivating factor.

“Publicly, Trump was saying the coronavirus was nothing to be afraid of. It’s just the flu, it’ll be gone in however long it will be gone,” Sotelo said. “That same timeframe, behind closed doors...he was basically admitting the severity of it” to journalist Bob Woodward.

With that in mind, there’s a good chance Sotelo will vote for Biden.

“But it’s not the real eager thing to do,” he said.

Graciela Blandon, an El Pasoan studying at New York University, agrees.

“It’s pretty demoralizing,” she said.

Blandon was hoping for a Democratic nominee who would steer the country away from the status quo, and looking for policies that would help American working families.

“Things like a Green New Deal, things like higher marginal tax rates, things like Medicare for All were all policies that I saw were ambitious and were desperately needed,” she said.

Blandon was excited when the Democratic primaries included a diverse field of candidates. But that excitement turned to disappointment.

“It turned out to be the one that was, you know, the most predictable, the most establishment. The one that presented the least amount of change to America,” she said.

She also feels that Kamala Harris was a safe choice for vice president, rather than an ambitious one.

“It was a pick to further ingrain his status as establishment and a safe choice for Republican voters,” Blandon said, adding that she wishes Biden were more responsive to young people’s demands.

“For whatever we ask, he always proposes a less ambitious alternative, an alternative that doesn't have vision behind it and could even end up being more damaging to the conditions that we're in now,” she said.

Regardless of her hesitation, Blandon said she’s “just going to have to hold my breath and vote for Biden.”

“It’s not about voting for the candidate that you believe agrees with you one hundred percent,” said J.J. Martinez, president of El Paso Young Democrats.

“There is no candidate — whether it’s Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Donald Trump, Mike Pence — none of them will ever agree with you one hundred percent. It’s about voting for the candidate that you know is best going to further your values.”

Biden wasn’t Martinez’s first choice, but he is currently organizing to make sure voters show up at the polls.

While the Democratic nominee’s ideas and decisions might not be as progressive as Martinez would like, “at the very least I know that he respects the constitution. That he respects El Paso. That he respects our communities enough to be a placeholder president.”

Martinez’s group is keeping El Pasoans informed by hosting virtual forums that discuss the voting process and organizing remote debates between local mayoral candidates.

“It is important that young people vote especially because if we want to change the country, we have to have a country to be able to change,” he said.

Martinez hopes that El Pasoans turn up in full force for this year’s election. In 2016, just 51% of registered voters showed up at the polls. That’s slightly lower than the statewide turnout of 59%.

He has reason for optimism. The city is poised to shatter early voting records.

Martinez says his group will continue hosting forums and virtual discussions with local leaders and encouraging even the most reluctant voters to cast their ballots.

Andrea Valdez-Rivas and Anahy Diaz are students in the Audio Journalism and Podcasting Research Course at the University of Texas at El Paso.

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