The Picture Show

The Complex Lives of Nonvoters


Gloria "Gigi" Johnson is the caregiver for her mother and two grandchildren. Johnson is a pillar of the Warner Robins community and promotes voting in her neighborhood.
Andrea Bruce for NPR

Gloria "Gigi" Johnson is the caregiver for her mother and two grandchildren. Johnson is a pillar of the Warner Robins community and promotes voting in her neighborhood.

Recent polls suggest that many Americans are enthusiastic about voting in this year's midterm elections. But a majority of Americans are unlikely to vote on Nov. 6. And while there are barriers to voting, there are also tens of thousands of people who could vote, but have chosen not to.

For the past 15 years, photographer Andrea Bruce worked as a photojournalist in foreign countries that were at war or were in conflict. Places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where elections were often accompanied with corruption, sacrifice, protests and, often, death. Now Bruce has been traveling throughout the United States to document why some voters won't cast their ballot this year.

Welch, W.Va. (Population: 1,740)

"Welch is known for supporting Trump during the last presidential election and for its voter turnout rate, which is the lowest in the state," said Bruce. "And West Virginia has the second-lowest voter turnout in the nation. People are tired of seeing journalists. I saw one Trump sign. When people were willing to talk about elections, they did it with a shrug."

"Coal is still king in Welch, but I didn't see any miners," said Bruce. "Only retired miners and remnants of the pride that comes from a town formed by the sacrifice of a dangerous and difficult job that sometimes brings money with it."

Support comes from

Warner Robins, Ga. (Population: 74,854)

Bruce met Gloria "Gigi" Johnson at a Sunday church service at Agape Outreach Ministries in Warner Robins. Johnson had struggled with hard drugs most of her life, gone to prison, let her mother raise her children. And now, much later in life, has realized her purpose, Bruce says: Johnson is a pillar of her community.

"Her neighborhood depends on her for leadership. She carries voter registration information with her in her car, to promote voting in her neighborhood. She said many people there are like her — they did time in prison and they don't realize that in Georgia, they are still allowed to vote."

"My first goal is to get lost and talk to people along the way," said Bruce. "I pay attention to the quality of the roads, access to public transportation, how trusting people are with each other and what people want their daughters to grow up to be."

"The town of Warner Robins is home to Robins Air Force Base, which is alive and well, and mostly employed by local civilians. But half the town appears dead — dead stores, roads, apartments and restaurants. The town doesn't know how to keep their young people, they say."

El Paso, Texas (Population: 683,577)

"El Paso is by far the most populated of the places I visited for this story," Bruce said. "People are open about whether they work in the U.S. or are a citizen. But when I asked people on the street about whether they vote, they became scared and no longer wanted to talk. I recently lived in Mexico City and can understand this reaction. There, your vote can show loyalty to cartels, gangs or the parties within the government. Voting was a not a subject people often wanted to discuss."

Bruce met many nonvoters on her journey around the U.S., where "tensions were running high but there was also a severe lack of involvement or interest in civil society."

Andrea Bruce is a documentary photographer. Her project "On Democracy" was supported by a CatchLight Fellowship in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Laura Beltrán Villamizar, who edited the story and conducted the interview, is projects picture editor at NPR. You can follow her on Instagram: @lolabe

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