New citizens’ first votes
Ranjith and Mihiri Udawatta have lived and worked in Columbia for more than a decade but until Tuesday had never voted in a presidential election.
Why? Because they weren't allowed.
Originally from Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Udawattas were naturalized as U.S. citizens in May and had never cast ballots in this country until the primary election.
“Today we are exercising our right as U.S. citizens for the first time,” Mihiri Udawatta said outside Rejoice Free Will Baptist Church. “It’s pretty cool.”
Both researchers at MU, the Udawattas have an 8-year-old daughter named Methma who was born in the United States and is in third grade at Ridgeway Elementary School. Both said they voted for Sen. John Kerry because they are concerned about the war in Iraq, deficit spending and the domestic economy.
Mihiri Udawatta said she spent little time studying the candidates but watched a few debates and felt good about Kerry.
“He just appealed to me,” she said.
— Joel Currier
Defying the odds
Both Ellie Grace, 25, and her sister, Leela Grace, 27, decided Tuesday to stand by their man, even if he isn't destined to win the Democratic nomination.
Both voted for Dennis Kucinich at Memorial Baptist Church on Paris Road.
They said he got their support because he strongly represents their views and doesn't seem to waffle on issues such as the environment and civil rights.
The sisters, both professional dancers and musicians, said they're aware Kucinich probably won't register much support during the primary, but that didn't deter them from voting for him. And they're OK, for the most part, with whoever wins the nomination.
“Basically, I want anyone to beat Bush,” Ellie Grace said.
Leela Grace agreed. “I’m tired of the environment of fear created by this administration,” she said.
If a Democrat beats Bush, both women said that person’s first priority should be rebuilding ties with the international community and “putting money back in the hands of the people.”
— Joi Preciphs
Importance of sincerity
Chase Wagner, 21, has always voted Democratic. On Tuesday morning, his candidate of choice was John Kerry.
Wagner said he took the time to gain an understanding of all the candidates’ positions on important issues and found his views align most closely with Kerry, especially regarding the war in Iraq.
“I’m not opposed to action against Iraq, but I am opposed to unilateral action,” Wagner said after casting a ballot at the Columbia Public Library.
Wagner, a senior at MU who hails from Kansas City, said he originally considered Howard Dean but said the former Vermont governor “unimpressed” him.
“(Dean) didn’t seem as sincere in his speeches in the last month,” said Wagner, who is majoring in political science and pursuing a minor in journalism.
— Kristin Hayden
Education and common sense
Maria Dixon, a 37-year-old doctoral student in communications at MU and four-year resident of Columbia, said education is one of the primary issues she's watching in this year's presidential election.
“I’m concerned about education,” Dixon said after voting at Paquin Towers on Tuesday. “When they cut funds for schools, I’m always concerned about university funding.”
A self-described Southerner, Dixon said she voted for John Edwards.
“I like the appeal of his grass-roots organizing and that he picked himself up from the bootstraps,” she said. “He has common sense. His idea that there are two Americas, and the fact he acknowledges that there's a gap between different groups proves he's educated and has a good head on his shoulders.
“I also like his stance on foreign policy. He would think first, then act. Plus, he’s so positive; the other candidates are depressing.”
— Joel Lyons
Instilling a sense of civic duty
Tricia and Eleanor Carver-Horner made their first trips to the polls Tuesday even though neither will be eligible to vote for at least 15 years.
On Tuesday, Heather Carver brought her two daughters, 3-year-old Tricia and 10-month-old Eleanor, to the voting booth shortly before 1 p.m. at Fairview United Methodist Church.
Carver, 35, a professor in MU’s theater department, said she and her husband are teaching their children to be good citizens.
“We're trying to teach them the importance of voting,” she said. “We want to be sure we pass that on to our kids as well so we’re actually practicing what we preach.”
Carver wouldn’t divulge whom she voted for but said her daughters helped her pull the crank inside the voting booth.
Tricia was excited about casting her first vote.
“Maybe I'll vote again when I'm 4,” she said.
— Joel Currier
Refusing to bow to the pressure
Unlike many Howard Dean supporters who bailed out at the last minute due to his sagging performance in recent polls, Nancy West stuck to her guns and voted for Dean on Tuesday at Columbia Fire Station No. 3 on Ashland Road.
“I have supported Dean all along,” said West. “I think the whole issue of electability is turning this race into a sporting event. I think it's really compromising to base your vote on something like that.”
West, an associate professor of English at MU who moved to Missouri from New Jersey 10 years ago, admitted she considered switching to the Kerry camp, especially given his mounting popularity.
“At times, it was tempting to decide to go with Kerry because he is getting very popular. And I really want that man out of the White House,” she said, referring to President Bush.
Despite the appeal of voting for the new front-runner, West stood firm in her support for Dean.
“He has a real grass-roots approach,” West said. “I think that's a very powerful way to fight Bush.”
— Sara Semelka
Ramu Reddy wants President George W. Bush out of the White House.
The 30-year-old computer technician for University Hospital said the war in Iraq has been a costly waste.
"It was a waste of money, and a lot of soldiers are dying," he said. "We didn't find any chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction."
Reddy voted for Sen. John Kerry Tuesday.
"Well, for me, it's usually about education and taxes," he said.
-- Joel Currier
Andy Zellers waited and waited and waited to make up his mind.
Then the Iowa caucuses helped push him over the edge.
At about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Zellers cast his Democratic primary vote for John Kerry. Like many, he had been unsure which of the Democratic candidates would win his vote.
"I made this decision recently," said Zellers, a Chicago native and now a resident of 1709 Mizzou Place. "I was leaning towards (Howard) Dean, but after Iowa, I decided on Kerry."
The much-talked about issue of electability was on Zellers' mind, but he said that it wasn't the deciding factor.
"I don't think that Dean is unelectable," said Zellers, a law student at MU. "I just think that Kerry has the momentum and that party unity is more important than any one candidate."
-- Sara Semelka
A second choice
Lisa Thornton, a professional hair stylist, just barely cast her vote in the Democratic presidential primary before the 7 p.m. deadline Tuesday at Oak Towers.
"I was going to vote for Gephardt," she said, "but since he dropped out, I had to go with (John) Kerry."
Thornton said she was originally leaning toward Sen. John Edwards, D-NC, but eventually decided on Kerry.
"They both have platforms aimed at helping people, but I thought Kerry had a better chance to beat Bush," she said. "I want Bush out of there. They've been looking for how long and they still haven't found any weapons of mass destruction."
Thornton also said that Kerry's senior citizen platform -- it includes a promise of affordable health care for every American -- helped sway her decision.
"I have a disabled mother, and she needs a good ... well, all seniors need a good prescription drug plan, and I thought Kerry's plan was the best."
-- Jason O'Connell