GLENVILLE, W. Va. – Charlotte Greenleaf will not vote on Tuesday. No one else in her family. I never have, she says.
It's not that she's too busy. Greenleaf, 60, is unemployed and is trying to reach the disability pension, plus the pigs and chickens she raises on a small farm near this crippled city in central West Virginia. And it's not that she is satisfied with the state of things. Unsatisfied with President Trump, she quoted her mother, "If you have nothing nice to say, do not say anything."
No, that's why she does not vote: she means that the country's leaders are chosen by rich and powerful people, far from any place she's ever been. "My favorite subject at school was history, and I've learned it's always like that," said Greenleaf. "The politicians only think about themselves." She hires them: She does not read the news, does not watch them on TV. And certainly not vote.
About half of the electorate in the country is wrong – far more than in most interim periods. In a situation like Tuesday's election, in which the nation is divided into relatively equal groups of trapped partisans and the control of Congress and some state capitals dependent on tightly-contested races, non-electorates have great power in their own right. In dozens of battlegrounds, especially in suburban political suburbs, it is the ordinary non-voters who control margins.
In order for the Democrats to take control of one of the congressional chambers, they must mobilize masses of voters – especially young people and minorities – who have not previously taken care of it. Many in the party blame the Trump presidency, which Hillary Clinton failed two years ago to expand the democratic base in key states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
And since Republicans, too, need support from people who usually do not vote for their majorities, or only in the presidential years, both parties spend millions trying to bring the bystander into battle, if only once.
"The attention given to non-voters has changed radically, and a very large portion of election budgets will now tend to put low-voter voters to the polls," said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster. "There's no question that voter turnout will rise dramatically this year, but nobody knows who these new and extra voters will be."
Although candidates and their counselors view them as elusive but invaluable, many non-voters see themselves as impotent peasants bringing a life together that only makes politics more difficult.
Here in Gilmer County – where only 36 percent of eligible voters had ballots in 2016, this was the lowest voter turnout in West Virginia, which was the second-lowest voter turnout in all US states after Hawaii – the traditional link between low income, low information populations, and no votes tangible.
If Greenleaf wants to hear the news, she'll come down the block at the Go Mart Convenience Shop on Main Street or the Cornerstone Cafe to hear the chatter. "You know what's going on," she said. "I do not have to read anything."
Gilmer County GOP chairman Willard Wright attributes his county's low turnout to the widespread political cynicism fueled by a chronic lack of competition races. "They are not interested enough to educate themselves," he said.
"For many years as a party we were a minority – here were three-to-one Democrats – we did not even have candidates for many races," he said. "Many people believe that it will be a landslide, so why bother the election?"
According to a 2016 Census Bureau study, the main reasons nationwide explain why non-voters do not like their choice (25 percent), are uninterested (15 percent), are too busy (14 percent), and are ill or disabled be withheld (12 percent).
In a secluded rural town like Glenville, just 20 minutes from the nearest highway, the golden morning light and the color spots on the dramatic slopes can mask a lot of loneliness and desperation. Eight out of 23 stores in four blocks of Main Street are empty, the laundrette is closed and available for $ 17,000, and the combination of an aging population and a devastating opioid epidemic makes many people believe the election is not worth the effort ,
"Some people do not come out more than once or twice a year," said David Corcoran, publisher of the local newspapers, Glenville Democrat and Pathfinder. "They are back in the hills and caves and do not think anything is affecting them. And if you or someone in your family is into opiates, it takes over your life. The voting is somehow superfluous for you. "
Non-voters are by no means limited to remote locations. In 2014, only 36 percent of eligible voters, 21 percent of Hispanics and 16 percent of under-30s were voters after the US election campaign.
In post-election elections, the big money and all sorts of tactics aimed at leaving the youth and Hispanic votes ended with a small change in low turnout. This year, Democratic challengers such as Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who will compete against Senator Ted Cruz (R) in Texas, and Stacey Abrams, candidate for the Georgian governorship, can only win if they restore the Obama coalition, including unusually high turnouts among young people and minorities.
The record level of early polls has shown some signs that campaigns are reaching new voters, but how many traditional non-voters arrive on Tuesday remains unclear. Across the country, many people interviewed for this report advocated avoiding the ballot box.
Politics is simply "something we have no control over," said Nyia Ford, a sales employee at a gap shop in the Bronx, New York City, which has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the state. "If I say, we're black people. Honestly, politics was made for white men to benefit. It has always been like that since America was founded. "
Ford, who is 19 years old and a part-time student at Purchase at the State University of New York, cites two reasons why he has not voted: she's busy and can not see any way out of the deepening gap between races.
"I have the feeling that Trump has just started a whole new revolution," she said, "a bad one. I feel like he has since taking office, the whole black and white thing is completely out of control. "
A similar disillusionment holds Edwin Martinez from the elections. He was 18 years old when he gave his first election for Barack Obama in 2008. This year, 64 percent of citizens voted under 30, a number that collapsed in 2012 to 38 percent.
Obama "has made history, and I feel I've made history because I voted for him," said Martinez, an employee in the Bronx who had re-elected Obama in 2012 but has not voted and plans to to stay home on Tuesday. As the father of three children and the son of Dominican immigrants, he is rejected by the hyper-partisanship and anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Trump administration.
"I'm not inspired," said Martinez, laughing.
The reason some people do not vote is because they can not – they are criminals or legal immigrants who are not yet citizens. Others are dissatisfied and do not doubt that choosing has meaning. Or they are not sure if they should trust their own judgment. Or they are just overwhelmed.
At the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver, with red and brown leaves floating in a cool breeze of trees, Phillip Padilla – wearing strass earrings, a chunky gold chain, and a baseball cap carrying an oversized cannabis leaf – was looking for a marijuana drugstore his sleepy 6 month old daughter Alexia in a front pack.
"I do not think my word has anything to say," he said, explaining why he did not vote. "So many other people choose. What is one less common? "
Padilla, who is 21 years old and unemployed after giving up a job at Walmart recently, made no choice in 2016 – "too much drama between Trump and Hillary." His financial situation is precarious, but he sees no reason to believe choosing the right candidate would help stabilize his life.
The only way he could vote is, "Padilla said," If I get $ 100 for it. "
For Porsha Edmond, a 30-year-old medical assistant in Burnsville, Minn., A suburb south of the Twin Cities, politics is a big turnaround. Advertising on TV is incessantly and relentlessly negative. "A healthy debate? That's good, "she said," but when it comes to beating … at 6 in the morning I go to work, I really do not want to start my day like this. "
"I definitely believe in the vote as far as a change is concerned. I really do, "she said. "But I am also a person who is at the fence. , , , Does my voice really make a difference? "
She has previously voted for Obama and then for Clinton in 2016. "But I do not think my voice mattered," she said.
Now, watching Trump, she's back on the fence. "Many people do not like him, but for me personally, I'm someone who somehow admires the entrepreneurial side," she said. "I do not like it. , , How warlike it is, how uneducated it all comes off, but at the end of the day this is a very rich man who has made some very good decisions. "
Edmond's Conclusion: Your life has not gotten better or worse since Trump's inauguration: "I'm not really affected."
Aaron Abramson, the owner of a DJ company in Duluth, had rejected the vote years ago after he had made his election for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) President in 2008.
He moved a bit and registering again was "a pain". Then there is the television commercial, which he considers "ridiculous". Abramson, 36, calls himself a moderate Republican, but "I really do not think it's important who the president is, people said the world would end when Obama was president – it's not over yet, people said 'The world would end when Bush was president – it did not end, people said the world would end with Trump – it does not end.'
Many non-voters were not dissatisfied at the beginning. Life made her that way. Olen Anderson, 67, once trusted the government and felt committed to his country. From 1966 to 1969 he served in Vietnam as an army doctor.
But Anderson, who retires and lives in Upstate New York near the Vermont line, has mistrusted politicians, regardless of their party, to mistrust. He has no interest in the vote. The land is "downhill," he said, and there's nothing he can do about it.
He watched as his sister had to sell the family home because she could not afford the property taxes. He has been forced to get dentures for years, but said his veterans health insurance would not cover the costs.
"I fought abroad. Come on, try to get false teeth, no, "he said. "You fight for your country, you come home and they say the hell with you."
He was sad when he saw local officials closing children's swimming pools in a budget lowering step.
"They just shut them down and said," Hell with the kids, "Anderson said," so I just do not believe in the government anymore. "
Phillips reported from New York. Torey Van Oot of Minneapolis, Jennifer Oldham of Denver and Scott Clement and Emily Guskin of Washington contributed to the report.