In conversations across the Third Congressional District, people shared reasons for not voting that seem much less abstract. A pair of elderly Jehovah’s Witnesses outside of a library in Yuma said they refuse to vote for religious reasons; their faith teaches that they should not take sides on worldly political issues. A trio of young 20-something women at a bar in Avondale, west of Phoenix, said they don’t pay enough attention to politics to get involved. They have opinions about issues like “illegals” and want “equality for everyone,” they told me, sipping colorful cocktails, but generally avoid talking about them, because they make people angry.
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One table over, a 23-year-old, Marissa Browning, told me she generally likes Donald Trump, but “I have enough problems. I don’t need to worry about the rest of the world’s problems.” Instead of reading up on politics, she said, “I would rather be watching Friends.”
The perspectives of self-described voters and nonvoters didn’t necessarily vary that widely. Many people shared some of the same eye rolls and grievances over the current state of politics. People left, right, and center expressed frustration with the television ads and road signs that have taken over the state like kudzu in recent months; Phoenix was the No. 1 political-ad market in the country in September and early October, according to The Arizona Republic. Rabid partisanship was alienating: A truck driver from Tucson who cast an early ballot said he thinks the Democratic Party has moved way too far left; a fry cook from Yuma said the town’s snowbirds, or temporary winter residents, have moved the community to the right.
Above all, there was disillusionment: with the candidates, with the money, with the process.
“They bash each other too much,” said Victor Varela, a 47-year-old who hasn’t voted in several years.
“All the lies that happen between politicians—I don’t know who to believe,” said his wife, the 45-year-old Maria Varela, who isn’t registered.
“Why kick up dirt from somebody’s past that could have been a one-time deal? … Nobody is perfect in this world,” Victor said.
“We don’t need the negativity in our lives, you know?” Maria said.
As people seem to say every year, the stakes of this election are high, especially in a purple state like Arizona. This year, the state’s U.S. Senate race is among the closest in the country. The statehouse is solid red, but national groups are trying to flip it blue. Last spring, teachers across the state staged a mass walkout, in part responding to Governor Doug Ducey’s policies—and he is up for reelection.
In the short term, each of these elections could be highly consequential and fundamentally shape the life of people in Arizona. But people like Maria and Victor Verela remain invisible to this system of government. More than 235 million eligible voters live in the United States, but only a portion of those people feel able or willing to give their say in how their communities are formed. As political junkies settle in to watch the returns, most Americans will be living in an alternate world: a normal day, like any other, when nothing really changes.