Happy Election Day, America!
PEOPLE hit the streets as millions of Americans hit the polls across the country Tuesday to cast their votes in the all-important presidential race as well as other key races to be decided at long last.
Polls opened as early as 6 a.m., and while some 45 million Americans have already cast their ballots during early voting, it didn’t take long for the lines to start forming around the block.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
At Donald Trump‘s polling place in Midtown Manhattan, a PEOPLE staffer was in line as two protesters pushed past Trump’s Secret Service, stripped off their shirts, and streaked through the room. The ladies had “Trump” written in black across their chest. They were detained by security at the location — elementary school P.S. 59. on 56th St. between 2nd and 3rd Ave.
Trump voted there hours later.
SALEM, NEW HAMPSHIRE
There were no lines at an elementary school in Salem, New Hampshire — where veteran Joe Pesce, of Melrose, Massachusetts, told PEOPLE why he was voting for Trump.
“Do you want socialism, or do you want what the forefathers wrote in the Constitution and Bill of Rights?” he said. “I want our economy to come back. I want this country to be great again. Our military has been depleted. We failed in trade. Our job growth is horrible. It’s the worst it’s been since before World War II.”
“Say what you want about Donald Trump, but he’s a businessman,” he continued. “We need a businessman, because this country truly is a business. We need a change. Hopefully the change will come today.”
Salem — part of Rockingham County – went red in the 2008 and 2012 elections. Pesce said that no matter who people vote for, he wants people to just get out to vote.
“People have a right to vote,” he said. “That’s the most power they’ll ever have and I hope — whoever they vote for, I just hope they just go out and vote. Exercise their right and hopefully we can make a change and make this country what it should be – the greatest country in the world.”
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
In Bushwick, Brooklyn, millennial voters stressed the importance of voting to PEOPLE.
Teresa Mulgrew, 25, reflected on how important the vote is for her generation. “We’re gonna be the ones reaping the consequences of all of this,” she said. “So, it’s really important for us to take a stand, to stand up for what is gonna effect our country and for us and for our children. We don’t want to risk a massive f——- step back.”
“This [election] is a lot scarier for everyone, so I think everyone’s making this a priority,” she added of the packed polling places.
Bushwick voter Daniel Burns, 27, agreed with Mulgrew. “I think that we’re realizing that the country is very polarized on a number of issues, and I think that we’re for the first time really, truly, tangibly seeing that this decision is in our hands and how it will effect us in the months and years to come.”
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“This is a democracy and our vote is what makes that work, it doesn’t work if we’re not voting. You have to show up or it doesn’t work,” he said.
Katie Hartsoe, 28, told PEOPLE she is casting her vote for all those who can’t — and for those whose rights have been suppressed throughout history.
“Especially for women and people who are not white males, so many people have fought very hard for us to have the right to vote and we should honor that by trying to make our voices heard and going out and voting,” she said.
She said she was troubled by the direction the election has gone — but hopes to vote for the first female president, Hillary Clinton. “It is very troubling to me the direction this election has gone in,” she said. “I am pretty invested and hoping that not just the presidential race but other races go in a not troubling way.”
There were about 40 people in line around 11:15 a.m. at Briar Vista Elementary School in DeKalb County, Georgia — a county that went blue for the last four presidential elections. But voters said the lines moved fast, with no one waiting more than 30 minutes.
Cheryl Jenkins, 63, told PEOPLE she was a longtime voter who had been as excited to start voting as she was to get her driver’s license. She declined to say who she was supporting, but said that decisions made today would affect people for future decades. She said that no matter who wins, she wants the country to “unite.”
“This is one of the most important times to vote,” said Jenkins, a grandmother of six — joking that even Nostradamus knew how important the 2016 election was. She urged people to get off their “rusty dusty.”
“What we do today is for our tomorrow,” she said.
Mary Timoney — a 50-year-old longtime voter — stayed with her party, voting for Trump, and said she was motivated by things like the Supreme Court. She had mixed enthusiasm about the candidates themselves, as did many people she knew, she said. She quoted her Irish husband: “Out of six billion people, this is all [we] got?”
“They both have positive qualities and negative qualities,” Timoney said of Clinton and Trump. “I have a 6-year-old that said, ‘They’re really mean to each other.’ ” She then joked that things would be different if 6-year-olds could vote.
She said that all the voters in line were in “a good mood,” and she remained enthusiastic about voting itself, if not her choices: “It’s very important.”
Bo Brown, 58, was there supporting Clinton. He said he’d been voting for “many years,” and turnout seemed “a bit longer than last time.” He said he was excited to vote.
“I very much believe that Hillary Clinton is a far superior candidate to Donald Trump,” he said. “She’s been in public service all her life” he added, citing her work as Arkansas and U.S. first lady, a U.S. senator and secretary of state.
“I just hope whoever loses concedes gracefully,” Brown said.
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NEW JERSEY
There were a steady stream of voters at Croydon Hall School in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. The Monmouth County district voted the Republican ticket in 2008 and 2012 — and residents who spoke to PEOPLE appeared to be following suit.
“I’ve been a resident of here for 61 years,” said Kenny, 61. “I voted for Trump, plain and simple. That’s it!”
Dan, 41, said he felt nervous when he saw an Obama/Biden bumper sticker in the parking lot — hoping that the country would not go with the Democratic choice again. He said that if it were up to him, he would want all politicians out of office “because they all stink.”
“There is no way anyone could rightfully vote for [Clinton],” he said. “She is without a doubt a liar — lies about everything there is. There isn’t a question about that. She’s horrible on national security. She’s horrible on the economy. She hasn’t done anything in her entire career — she’s been a politician. Is he great? He could not be any worse so let’s give it a change.”
New Jersey resident Deborah Murchie lives locally in Leonardo — and said she was worried about the outcome of the election. “I’m a little concerned about what is going to happen,” she said. “I hope that I cast the proper vote, but we all have to work together and no longer be a country divided.”
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
At a fire station in Linfield, Pennsylvania, there were long lines — and voters on both sides of the aisle.
Royersford resident Charlotte Coppens told PEOPLE she voted for Clinton because she had a special-needs child at home. “She supports Medicaid and everything like that, so that’s why,” the 28-year-old said.
Jeremy Weeks — a registered Independent who works as a communications technician — cast his vote for Donald Trump.
“I feel that of the candidates, he’s going to … better steer our country in the right direction,” the 46-year-old said. “He may not be the best candidate for president, but I like his choices for better.”
His wife, registered Republican Christine, agreed. The 45-year-old stay-at home mother of two, who homeschools their two kids, said she was looking at the big picture.
“Looking at Trump, I don’t really feel he represents me,” she explained. “But it’s those who were behind him on the Republican ticket and on the Supreme Court who are going to support our values and Biblical values of our right to carry; our right to religious freedoms — those things are important to us and our kids and possibly even our grandchildren. So that’s why we did what we did.”
Now that she voted, she said she felt “peace of mind.”
“I’ve been praying about it for a long time so I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I thought I was going to be,” Christine Weeks said. “I went in, I prayed, ‘Alright Lord, it’s all yours’ ” and just did what I had to do. And I feel that even tomorrow when we wake up after all this, God’s still our King and He’s going to have there who He wants there and we’re just going to have to deal with it either way.”
One Pennsylvania voter, who asked PEOPLE to remain anonymous, said the election inspired her to vote for the first time in almost 30 years. “It’s two awful candidates and I’m trying to vote for the one who will do the least harm to the county,” she said. “It’s sad.”
So who did she vote for? “The one who scared me less,” she said — keeping her choice private.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Lines at William S. Hart Park in West Hollywood, California, stretched nearly 130 people long – most people saying they’d been waiting well over an hour. The city of West Hollywood voted 83.96 percent for Obama in 2012, while Los Angeles County voted 69 percent for president Obama in both 2008 and 2012.
Colleen, a 24-year-old writers assistant, told PEOPLE voting was very important to her. She said she’s passionate about gun control and healthcare, and was pulling for Clinton.
“I hope that Hillary Clinton wins,” she said. “I hope that a lot of the state ballot measures in California go towards a progressive direction. I hope they vote for stricter gun control laws. I hope that they overturn Citizens United, at least in California. I hope they increase taxes for people in insanely high tax brackets.”
Tom Sopkovich, 41, was also pulling for Clinton — and praised her ability to connect with the voters. “I’m with her all the way,” he said. “I believe in her take on all the issues and really wanted to come out and support those issues.”
The election was really important to the creative director. “I’m actually here with my partner,” he said. “It’s actually his first time voting as a citizen, so it’s also really important to kind of come and show some support in person and sort of be a part of that process.”
Voters slowly filed into the polling place in Mission, a part of the Kansas City Metropolitan Area, and cast their votes quickly. Although they went without political garb or fanfare, several brought their families out for the experience.
Tasha, 33, brought three of her four children with her as she cast her ballot for Clinton with her family in mind.
“My decision was based on the generation after us. Just to make sure that they will still have the freedom that we operate in now. Knowing that they’re safe and knowing that we can regain the trust of no longer a color being a boundary, no longer discrimination, that we’re just knowing that we’re all equal,” she said.
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
In St. Louis, Missouri, the 6 a.m. opening of polls at New City School — in a heavily Democratic residential ward in a state long predicted to support Trump — saw a line of voters stretching more than half a block. By late morning, the outside lines were gone but voters inside still stood 30 to 45 minutes to cast ballots. A glitch with electronic voter sign-up stalled voting early, but the parade of voters remained steady through the mid-morning drizzle that was expected to last throughout the day. There was no obvious electioneering, signs, costumes or poll monitors. But there was a tangible sigh of relief that the campaign had reached its end. New City School is located about a mile from Washington University, site of the second presidential debate.
Rachael Hammann, a 25-year-old a veterinary medicine student, told PEOPLE she voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary but still felt it was important to vote because “this election is a pretty big one.”
“I like Hillary for the most part, but I’m not happy to vote for her, just because she wasn’t my first choice,” she said. “I’m mainly voting against Trump. I’m so glad it’s hopefully going to be over. I feel like this has been a pretty nasty campaign, and I feel bad for a lot of my peers, that this is their first election to vote in.”
Other voters have been fans of Clinton for years and were thrilled to be casting their vote in her favor.
“In ’92 I had a ‘Vote for Hillary’s Husband’ button and now I get to vote for her. If it was an option, I would have voted for her then, but certainly today,” said Brad Fogel, a 47-year-old law professor at St. Louis University, who brought his 11-year-old son, Isaac, to the polls.
Reuben Johnson, a 42-year-old emergency room physician, says it was “not really difficult to choose” between the two candidates in this divisive election and made up his mind many months ago. He said he voted for Clinton, and the possibility of her becoming the first female president had little to do with his decision.
“Overall, one person clearly has leadership qualities, and the other person doesn’t.” Johnson said. “It’s more about who’s in charge, and who’s the right person to lead the country in the right way.”
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, NEW YORK
Residents in Washington Heights, a northern section of Manhattan, said the voting process at the George Washington Educational Campus was quick and uneventful Tuesday morning.
Abigail Jaffe, 24, told PEOPLE that although she voted Republican nominee Mitt Romney four years ago, she voted for Clinton.
“Today I voted for Hillary because there’s no way in hell I would ever vote for Donald Trump,” she said, adding that voting made her feel “empowered.”
Marissa Watson, 38, also voted for the Democratic nominee, proudly declaring, “I’m with her!”
“I think you’ve got one candidate whose qualified and one who isn’t. One who can run the country, and one who can’t,” she told PEOPLE. “It’s a clear issue of experience. It’s a clear issue of temperament. It’s a clear issue of ability to manage difficult situations. We require a lot from our leaders, and one person clearly has those qualities, one person doesn’t.”
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
Lines to vote in Salt Lake County were much longer than in years past because the polling centers have been reduced to 37 during Utah’s first major mail-in election. At the First Congregational Church in Salt Lake City, the line stretched from the gymnasium to the parking lot, with a steady flow of voters since polls opened at 7 a.m.
Although the mood was friendly, many were hesitant to reveal who they were picking in the voting booth, although one woman who appeared to be in her 30s told PEOPLE, “I don’t want people to know that I’m voting for Donald Trump.”
However, Tracy Scott, a 53-year-old from New York who lives in Salt Lake, openly shared her support for the Republican candidate — even if friends and family are surprised to learn she’s voting for Trump.
“They think I’m crazy, but you know what? I’ve been a supporter of his from the very, very beginning, and I’m very proud of him,” she said.
As a flight attendant for a major airline, Scott says terrorism is something she’s nervous about.
“I think we need change, and it’s time.” she said, adding, “I like his toughness. I like he says what he says and means what he means, and I think he’ll get stuff done.”
ORANGE COUNTY, FLORIDA
Windermere is an upscale suburb of Orlando, known for its multimillion dollar mansions. The area has leaned Republican for state and local races, but President Obama won narrowly here in 2008 and 2012. The racial makeup of this area is 95.68% White, 1.3% black. There is not a long line at all; the average wait today has been about 10 minutes.
Marla Wilcox, 44, says she’s voting for Trump — “but I don’t like it.”
“I’m just doing it because Hillary is too liberal. She’s out of step with the rest of America, I truly believe that. I’m worried about the Supreme Court nominations especially, but I’m also pro-life, and Hillary is not,” Wilcox explains.
Taylor Wilcox, 19, cast his first vote in a presidential election for Trump “because he knows how to run a business, and I think America is like a business. I hope he wins. I came here with my mom; we had researched everything beforehand. We know what we’re going to do today, because we sat and figured out which candidates were more in line with what we believe.”
In Pine Hills, a mostly black suburb of Orlando (13% white, 67% black, 13% Hispanic), voting is at the Orlando Baptist Temple and the lines are longer, about a 25 minute wait
“I am not a person who likes to be lied to, and Hillary lies a lot,” says Shenita Roy, 30. “Donald Trump lies a lot, but I feel like he actually wants America to be great, so I’m voting for him. No one else in my family wants me to vote for him (laughs) I’m not embarrassed, though, because I think he’s the best choice.”
Says Calvin T Smith III, 22: “I’m voting for Hillary Clinton because I’m a Democrat, and my parents are Democrats, and I think they want to help us more than Republicans do. No Republicans ever come to Pine Hills, but Democrat candidates come to the fair grounds and talk to the people. I think if Donald Trump is voted in, we’ll have a lot of problems as a people. The black community doesn’t want to go back to what he wants. He wants Stop and Frisk, and other things that aren’t good for us. So I’m voting for Hillary.”
MAPLEWOOD, NEW JERSEY
Sam Fagundez, 20, was ecstatic to vote in her first presidential election, and sneaked her pet iguana, Hiccup, into the voting booth.
“[My parents] always told me it was important to go out and vote and decide who would be running our country,” said Fagundez, who commuted back to her hometown the previous evening (with Hiccup), before heading back to prepare take exams.
The Rutgers University junior was proud to vote for Clinton “because I know for a fact she has the experience, she knows what she’s doing and also just because the other option wasn’t so hot.”
The students also confirmed that Hiccup is a staunch Clinton supporter.
“1oo percent,” she said. “He believes in climate change. It’s a really big deal for him.”
Residents in the swing state of Florida appeared to have taken advantage of early voting, as many polling places had little to no lines.
Many voters who spoke to PEOPLE went against their registered party for the historic election. Gene Padgett, a Republican who voted for Clinton, admitted that he wasn’t pleased with either candidate but he had only two options.
“There’s been so much name calling between both sides and both sides are wrong in a lot of different ways, I believe,” he said. “But everybody’s made mistakes. I believe everybody’s got skeletons in their closets. But you have to believe in yourself and believe in the person you’re voting for.”
Another registered Republican, Kelli Bynum, opted to write in Michelle Obama rather than vote for either major party candidate.
“I disagree with a lot of who Donald Trump is and what he’s about, his policies, so on and so forth,” she explained. “I didn’t not vote for Hillary Clinton because I’m Republican. I really did listen to what she had to say and listened to the debates and so on, so forth. I just didn’t fall in line with her on a number of issues.”
Meanwhile, Lisa Futch recently switched to Republican after 34 years as a Democrat and voted for Trump.
“When I registered to vote, which was back in the early ’80s, Democrats and Republicans were different than what they are now,” she said. “It seems like our Democrats are more after taking care of themselves versus taking care of the American people, so that’s one of the main issues. It’s not really the party – I’m voting for America and I think this is the right choice.”
• With reporting by CHAR ADAMS, ELAINE ARADILLAS, ADAM CARLSON, NICKI WEISENSEE EGAN, KATHY EHRICH DOWD, CATHY FREE, PATRICK GOMEZ, STEVE HELLING, JULIE JORDAN, SHARON CLOTT KANTER, DEVAN LESLEY, SARAH MICHAUD, BRITTANY TALARICO and JEFF TRUESDELL