Election 2004: The anticipation, the issues and the aftermath

Students in Robert Cole’s Intro to Journalism classes hung out at polling places in New Jersey and surveyed the big issues on Election Day. This is what they found:

Hopewell voters reflect major divide in country

On Election Day 2004, no matter where you went, you weren’t alone.

“I’ve never seen lines like this before,” was a common complaint among voters.

CNN.com reported that nearly 60 percent of registered voters and nearly 120 million Americans – up from 54 percent and 105.4 million in 2000 – went to the polls on Tuesday, making for the greatest percentage turnout for a presidential election since 1968.

And, according to election officials in Hopewell Borough, half the borough’s registered voters had filled out their ballots by 1:15 p.m., and by 5 p.m., the 1000th voter – out of slightly more than 1,500 registered – had been in the booths.

But they couldn’t agree on anything.

In an election where the incumbent, President George W. Bush, and his challenger, Sen. John Kerry, stood for vastly different principles, many voters said it’s no wonder that the nation is so divided.

“There are two different kinds of Americans,” Vince Caristo, a Hopewell Township resident and Kerry supporter, said. “Our country is too big to be under one government.”

Indeed, Kerry and Bush’s plans for nearly every social issue – abortion, gay marriage, healthcare, social security and the environment – differ greatly.

But to many, the war in Iraq and the war against terror are the greatest concerns.

“We have a better chance of getting a little international support with Kerry,” Charlie Ashton, a Hopewell Borough resident who also voted for Kerry, said. “Bush has burned so many bridges that even if he wanted that support it would be tough to get it back.”

He and his wife Demi both voted for Bush in the 2000 election but decided to vote for Kerry this time around. International issues, abortion rights, gay marriage, the environment and education were, according to the two, the issues that helped them decide for whom to vote.

Some, like Lynn Muentener, another borough resident who voted for Bush in 2000, disagree. “Kerry scares me,” she said. “I don’t think he’s telling the truth.”

“Bush said he would defend the country and went (to Iraq),” she said. “I think the war has a lot to do with this election. (Kerry) is indecisive.”

While her fear is commonplace, many Hopewell Democrats said they believe this fear is misplaced.

Democrats show Kerry support at headquarters

Anti-Bush sentiment was strong at Democratic headquarters in Ewing on Election Day last Tuesday. John Murphy, candidate for Ewing township council in the local political race, may have had the best line when it came to criticizing Bush’s domestic policy, asking, “Do you know the American Express slogan ‘Don’t leave home without it’? Well, Bush should have left home without it.”

Murphy explained that the United States had a $400 billion surplus built primarily from middle class taxes before Bush took office. During his tenure, he has taken this money from the hardworking middle class and given it to the richest two percent of people in the country, Murphy said.

“Bush has made a lot of promises and has broken all of them,” Murphy said. He criticized the way in which Bush has handled the war in Iraq, comparing America’s involvement in it to the country’s involvement in Vietnam 40 years ago. He said he is concerned that Bush has no exit plan for the thousands of troops he has sent over to Iraq.

Jeffery Queen, a 37-year-old Trenton social worker, was one of the many Democratic supporters who agreed with Murphy about Bush’s foreign policy concerning Iraq. Queen said of Bush, “The man should take care of his household before he can take care of the neighborhood.”

Workers and volunteers at headquarters showed their support for Kerry by going door to door encouraging local residents to vote democratically on Election Day. Teams were filled with a variety of Democrats including students, politically concerned residents and union workers. These teams scoured the homes in nearby towns whose residents were either Democratic or undecided.

Surprisingly, come voters remained undecided right up until Election Day. Carlos Hernandez, senior political science major, admitted, “I didn’t know who I was going to vote for until I got into the booth and pushed the button.”

Headquarters was filled with an overwhelmingly Democratic atmosphere. The walls were plastered with Kerry/Edwards signs and stickers. Democratic events intended to drum up support for Kerry marked each day of the huge October calendar that covered an entire wall. But the real attention drawer at the headquarters was the shirt worn by Queen which said in bold, red letters, “Vote or Die!,” the slogan of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.

This commanding slogan was the backlash from the disappointing number of people eligible to vote who chose not to in 2000. Ironically, Queen, a proud resident of the ghetto in Trenton, said that many of the residents in his area do not vote because they feel the government will be corrupt no matter who is in office.