Reading, a small city in rural Berks County, was once a center for the Socialist Party in the US. In recent years, the county has gone Republican.
READING — Around noon on Election Day in Reading, more people were waiting in line for the bus than were waiting to vote—a stark contrast to other polling places around the Keystone State.
“Maybe there were lines earlier,” Travis Harris said after he left his polling place. “Or maybe people are afraid because of the pandemic. I don’t know. I just know that nothing was going to stop me from voting in person today.”
Polling places at the Santander Arena on Penn Street, Northeast Middle School, Nativity Lutheran Church, and Albright College—all on North 13th Street—had more representatives stumping for candidates than actual voters.
But lines were longer earlier in the day, according to The Reading Eagle. In some places, voters lined up as early as 6 a.m.—an hour before the polls opened.
Reading, a small city with a population of more than 88,000 in rural Berks County, is unique politically. For the first half of the 20th century, the city was a center of the Socialist Party in the US. Reading residents, who were predominantly white, elected Socialists to be city council members, school board members, mayor, county officials—and even a member of the state House of Representatives. Some of the city’s residents still share those Socialist sentiments.
In the last few decades, the city’s demographics have shifted. Its population is now about 66% Latino. And in 2016, 52.5% of Reading residents voted for President Donald Trump.
Harris said he was determined to vote this year because he was concerned about how the US has responded to the novel coronavirus pandemic and the future of Social Security and Medicare.
Estevan Dejesus said racism was a major factor for him.
“As a leader, there are some things you just shouldn’t say,” Dejesus said. “I am an American, too. I am not less than anyone else just because my ethnicity is different than yours.”
Michele Dilullo’s concern for her children and the quality of their education was the reason for her vote Tuesday.
“My kids deserve a good education, too,” Dilullo said. “It shouldn’t matter if I live in a low-income area.”
In rural Berks County, at a polling place in Kutztown, Suzy Donchez and her husband Frank were the 449th and 450th people to vote at their polling place. A plethora of issues brought the couple out to cast their ballot Tuesday.
“Support of the military and backing our police. We have family and good friends that served and are currently serving in the military,” Suzy said. “Our right to bear arms. If they defund the police and take away that right, it will not be a good outcome.”
The Donchezes said health care was another huge issue that swayed their vote.
“The Affordable Care Act has to go,” Suzy said. “We were paying $200 a month with our previous insurance. Then it went up to over $900 per month with Obamacare. All our copays went up. I have had to push off surgery because of it.”
Regardless of the issue that brought them out to the polls, all agreed not only was it their civic duty to get out and vote, but casting their ballot in-person reassured them that their vote would be counted.
“I like the postal service,” DeJesus said with a laugh. “I just don’t trust them. Not with my vote. That’s too important to me, especially this year.”