While for many the choice for president is cut and dried, some Chattanooga area residents have found themselves wavering or unsure of what to do as Nov. 3 nears in an increasingly polarizing election season.
The Times Free Press asked readers who were still undecided late this election season to talk about their decision-making process.
Most expressed frustration with their options, including some who felt there was truly no good choice, some who were decidedly against the Republican incumbent, President Donald Trump, and others who felt trapped in the two-party system.
NO GOOD CHOICE
"I've never been less excited or more depressed about a presidential election than I am now," said Gene Roll, a local independent from Hamilton County. "It just seems like there aren't any good choices that I can see."
Roll said he was having a hard time garnering personal interest in voting for either of the two main choices for president, Trump or the Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.
"It seems like with 300 million people in this country we could have done better than those two," Roll said. "At first I thought Biden might be a reasonable alternative, but I think the guy's senile and I don't know if he can finish his term. And I don't like [vice presidential nominee Kamala] Harris. And I don't really like Trump. So, you know, what's my option?"
Camille Hallstrom, also an independent in Hamilton County, said that while she thinks Trump is "manifestly not a good leader and is leading us to something like authoritarianism and has harmed relationships around the globe," she also expressed concern with Biden's age, 77, and the likelihood that Harris would become president at some point in the next four years.
"I don't like either of the major party candidates for various reasons," she said. "I do tend to maybe lean more socially conservative, but legislatively liberal, which of course means I'm all over the place when it comes to choosing candidates."
Hallstrom said she could be happy with some of Biden's positions on things, but Harris' position on issues are more "left-leaning" than she is comfortable with.
"But that is all just to say it's a very hard choice in either direction," she said.
We may not know results on election night
We may not know results on election night
Election night usually ends with results. This year will probably be different due to record-breaking early voting and the deluge of voting by mail-in ballots. Read more on how the Times Free Press plans to handle this and where we get information on election results.
Some current or former undecided voters interviewed by the Times Free Press also expressed that while neither choice seemed ideal, they were willing to at least vote against Trump, 74.
"I'm very pro-life but I can't follow Donald Trump," said David Norman, of Walker County, Georgia. However, he declined to say whether he would vote for Biden or a third-party candidate. "Donald Trump is the most pro-life candidate that we've had in my lifetime, but he's also one of the most personally offensive candidates that we've had in my lifetime."
Levanah Lauxman Lutin of Hamilton County said that while she is not a fan of Joe Biden, she will be voting Democrat in opposition to the present leadership.
"I'm going to end up voting for the Democratic ticket to unseat the current situation," Lutin said. "I don't want to call it the lesser of two evils. But it's simply, you're making the choice to get what's in and not working, out. And I'm not happy with the only other choice. I don't necessarily think that Joe Biden's going to do a better job."
She also sees vast polarization around single topics such as abortion and the Affordable Care Act and feels that the choices lack representation of the real issues at hand.
"I'm going to vote, but I'm going to vote not for the candidate that I'm really interested in or believe in but vote to try and get a change to happen. That's not very satisfying," she said. "I say I haven't decided who I'm going to vote for, as in, I don't want to vote for either of them. Neither of them have convinced me."
For Sasha Abernathy, a Rhea County resident who works in health care, the pivotal point of deciding to vote for Biden as opposed to Trump was when the president caught COVID-19 in October.
"I think my final straw was having Donald Trump actually getting COVID and subjecting all of his family and all of the people that he worked with," she said. "And his lack of listening to medical professionals who know more than he does just kind of seals the nail in the coffin for me."
Abernathy said that at one point, she had at least considered voting for Trump as she believes he has done a variety of good things for the public including his push for affordable medication and the initial stimulus package in response to the pandemic. But now she is ready for a change and watching the debates also helped to sway Abernathy to vote for Biden, rather than Trump.
"[The first debate] was basically children at the playground it was awful," she said. "The last one made it a little bit more clear for me as well because there was one person that stuck on topics and how it affects the nation, rather than boasting about themselves."
The Times Free Press also interviewed at least three Republicans who indicated they would be voting for Biden against Trump, but they declined to comment on the record about their decisions.
Rather than being unsatisfied with the two choices this year, some found qualms with the two-party system in general.
Lutin, a naturalized citizen with citizenship in both the United States and Scotland, felt that the two-party system was increasing polarization.
"Having had the ability to vote in two very different kinds of government, I think the United States has become incredibly polarized with just two voices. And I'm not entirely sure that either reflects a new way of thinking, new way of doing things," she said.
Lutin compares the system in the U.S. to that of the United Kingdom where there is a larger group of parties for individuals to vote for and then parties choose leaders from amongst themselves. And if parties don't have enough support, they can combine forces with other parties to increase the likelihood of winning and diversity of thought.
And as a rejection of the dominance of the two-party system, Hallstrom said she will be voting third party for the Solidarity ticket.
"I don't think he has any chance of winning, but I consider my vote a vote against the hegemony of the two-party system," she said. "We hear people say, 'Oh, you're throwing your vote away.' I'm only throwing my vote away if I really want a Republican or a Democrat to win and right now, I'm not happy with either of them winning.
"So like I said, I'm voting for something else. I'm voting to say we've got to get out of this mess we're in by just having two options, which are forcing us to become more and more extreme on both the right and the left."
While she personally has chosen to protest the two-party system with her vote, she cannot fault those who do choose between the two sides.
"But I will not argue with those who are choosing to vote Democrat or Republican because our options are so bad," she said. "I think one can in good faith choose either of those options for various reasons. I just hate the fact that we're forced into those options."
While many formerly undecided voters have finally decided what to do about this election, most emphasized the importance of getting out to vote, whether they chose to vote absentee, early in-person or plan to cast their ballot on Nov. 3.
"With everything that's going on with the Supreme Court and stuff like that, it's a really important time to let your voice be heard," Abernathy said. "A lot of people just don't, you know, they just don't do anything because they don't feel that it's going to matter or anything like that and more importantly than ever, I think that it matters."
For Roll, who is still unsure just whether or not he will vote, the weight of the decision, as a poll worker and as someone who has never missed a presidential election he was eligible for, is not lost on him.
"I may be able to vote at the poll that I go to and if so I suppose I guess I will hold my nose or just leave the presidential part vacant," he said. "I think it is important to vote. Just this time I just can't see many good choices."
Contact Tierra Hayes at email@example.com.