As It Happens·Q&A

Why this Georgia mother waited almost 10 hours in line to vote

Everlean Rutherford wasn't prepared for the hours-long lineup, but she was determined to make her vote count.

'I'm a mother of three Black young men,' says Everlean Rutherford. 'I'm voting for change in this country'

Everlean Rutherford took this photo after four hours in line at the Cobb County elections office in Georgia. (Submitted by Everlean Rutherford)

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Everlean Rutherford wasn't ready to wait in line for nine hours and 40 minutes at a Georgia polling site to vote in the U.S. presidential election.

With each passing hour, it became more difficult for her to stay the course, but she was determined to make her vote count.

"I'm a mother of three Black young men. To me, some people say you're voting for your life. I'm voting for change in this country. I can't let not one other Black young man … die ruthlessly like [George Floyd]," she said. 

Rutherford is a Kennesaw resident who joined a record number of 14.4 million people across the United States who have already cast their ballots during early voting, according to data collected by Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida. 

While Georgia has long been held by the Republicans, many believe that recent demographic changes could make the election more competitive.

Like Virginia and Ohio, Georgia is the latest state to endure long lineups on the first day of in-person voting. 

Election officials and advocacy groups have been encouraging people to vote early this year, either in-person or by absentee ballot, expecting an unprecedented turnout and the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Rutherford braved the lineup at Cobb County's main elections office on Tuesday, the second day of in-person voting in the state. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Everlean, why was it so important for you to go out and vote [Tuesday]?

I wanted my voice to be heard. A friend actually made a shirt that goes, "My voice, my vote," and that just rings true to how I feel about getting out there and voting.

Have you gone to early voting before in this way?

I've always went for early voting. I actually prefer early voting because I imagine the lines on voting day are so long, but I guess I was wrong this time.

What was it like in the past when you would come to vote?

I've lived in various places, but the most I've ever waited was maybe an hour and a half.

How long did you wait yesterday?

Almost 10 hours.

Wow. Did anyone give you a reason? Did anyone come and tell you what was going on?

They just said that they weren't really prepared for the amount of people that had showed up.

What time did you arrive yesterday?

I arrived at 10:04 [a.m.]. At that point, I was excited. I was like, "Yay, I'm about to vote," and then I saw everyone else in line. 

I was still excited [though] because so many people felt the need to make voting important and to come out and vote. 

And how long was the line when you arrived?

Initially it looked big, but once you got closer, you realize, wow, this thing is looped back and forth so many times. I counted more than 400 people at one point.

Did you go anticipating that? Did you bring supplies and a chair, maybe?

I actually went and I was like, OK, I don't think this should be that long. I'm thinking an hour, hour and a half … my husband actually, he put a chair in my car just in case, and I'm so glad because I wasn't even prepared for this.

Some people reported in places in Georgia where local restaurants and people came by with food and water or whatever else they could to encourage voters. Did you get anything like that?

We had someone who was passing out raisins ... the little packs. I was like, I don't know when to laugh, but I had the raisins and they were the best raisins in the world. 

A lady brought some doughnuts…. [She] was in line with us earlier and was able to get out [beforehand] because they were letting some of the older people go into [another] line. She came back for everyone who was in her little area and brung us doughnuts. I thought that was so sweet.

I'm voting for changes that I want to make this a better world for my children, for my children's children and for anyone else around.- Everlean Rutherford, Georgia resident 

The weather was OK, but was there any point that you thought, "I can't do this any longer, I'm going to pack it in?"

Yes. A couple times, I'll be honest.

Initially, I was thinking I would be out of there earlier. I'm normally the one who picks up our kids from school, so I thought I would have to leave and go pick up our sons…. My husband was like, "No. Stay. I got you." So he jumped in and went and got the kids. 

I was going to leave again [when] it was feeling too much just to be out there. I was tired, my back started hurting, like I'm ready to go. Then everyone around me was like, "No. Come on. We got this." 

I felt like I had a personal cheering group around me, and then I was cheering for other people to stay. There were a lot of people who left, though.

Voters line up to cast their election ballot at a Cobb County polling station in Marietta, Georgia, U.S., October 13, 2020. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

Is there any particular image, issue or moment you would remember that would give you that staying power or just why you really, really needed to cast that vote yesterday?

Yes. One of the moments is when George Floyd, if you watched the video, cried out to his mother who had already passed. And me, I'm a mother of three Black young men.

To me, some people say you're voting for your life. I'm voting for change in this country.

I can't let not one other Black young man, woman, just die ruthlessly like that. I can't let that happen. 

And so I'm voting for changes that I want to make this a better world for my children, for my children's children and for anyone else around.

It has to be a better world. I can't just sit around and just do nothing.

Do you worry about your boys, about their safety?

Yes, they're in elementary school. But I know now, like even walking around, people just feel offensive to them.

And I'm like, they're kids. They haven't done anything.

You were thinking about those boys when you were in line? 

Yes. My boys. 

And your husband was thinking about them when he said, "Stay"? 

Yes. He was.

Rutherford with her husband and three sons. (Submitted by Everlean Rutherford/Isadora Photography)

You know, the Cobb County elections and registration director said that there was just only so much space and only so much parking. They maxed it out. At the same time, there's been a couple of studies in recent years that show that Black people, people in Black neighbourhoods, wait many times longer in line than people in white neighbourhoods. What do you make of that?

I think that's true because there were a couple of people who had commented that they were looking online while we were waiting in line. [They saw] people in more affluent areas within Georgia saying, "I don't know what they're talking about. I got in and went to vote and came back out." But they were in the nicer areas where there were more voting booths and everything.

If the location where we're voting at, if it's a problem every year, if that location is not working, then why don't you move to another location where you can put more voting booths and have more people get in and out? Saying that you just don't have the space there, to me, is just an excuse to allow the voter suppression to continue.

Do you think your vote will make a difference yesterday?

Yes, it will. Every vote will make a difference.

Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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