Over the past month and a half, The Huffington Post has kept in regular communication with two undecided voters to get a sense of how the twists and turns of the election were affecting votes.
These weren’t voters from swing states. But they represented subsections of the electorate that could determine the outcome: a progressive-minded voter choosing between Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein or sitting it out; and a Republican-leaning voter choosing between Donald Trump or going Democrat.
Ben Birkner, 30, is a tech sales executive from Charleston. He supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Democratic primary.
Leonard Rainey, 33, is from Louisiana and works in health care. He voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.
This is the story of the last six weeks of this crazy campaign, as told through their words.
Sept. 29 ― Three days after the first presidential debate
Birkner: He is “disgusted by all the politicians” and is thinking of sitting the election out. “Hillary represents big money that we know doesn’t work and Donald Trump is absolutely insane,” he says.
Rainey: He hasn’t yet made up his mind. But he knows he will vote between three candidates: Trump, Clinton and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. “You don’t have a right to bitch if you don’t vote,” he says.
Oct. 4 ― The day of the vice presidential debate
Birkner: He has been avoiding the election. He’s more worried about the hurricane barreling toward the Atlantic Coast. But information seeps in, like the story on Trump not paying federal income taxes. “It does disgust me but it doesn’t make me want to vote for Hillary any more,” he explains. “I don’t want to vote for Hillary just because Trump sucks.”
Rainey: He says he wants to like Clinton. But he is hearing that Julian Assange “might come out tomorrow” with damaging information (three days later, WikiLeaks will publish hacked emails of John Podesta). As for Trump, “his mouth doesn’t fucking stop,” he says. Nevertheless, he is “almost positive” that Trump will win.
Oct. 13 ― Six days after tape was published of Trump bragging about sexual assault, and four days after the second presidential debate
Birkner: He didn’t watch the second debate. He got recaps from friends instead. He did see the Trump tape and, frankly, is not surprised. “A powerful man in politics being a misogynist!” He is more preoccupied with the latest from WikiLeaks and a story he had read about Clinton’s brother investing in a “sketchy” firm (he doesn’t quite know the details). “My feeling is Hillary is going to get elected,” he says, reluctantly. “So I feel like I’ll abstain or vote for a third party.”
Rainey: He isn’t moved by the Trump tape. “It was pretty terrible,” he explains, “but have I heard worse? Unfortunately yes.” In fact, he seems to be drifting to Trump’s camp. “A president needs to be a CEO and what makes a good CEO and president is knowing your strengths and weaknesses.” He doesn’t take it seriously when Trump said in the debate that Clinton should be jailed. Instead, he’d rather see Clinton admit that she did mishandle classified information.
Oct. 25 ― Six days after the final debate
Birkner: He tried watching the third debate but stopped after 10 minutes. “I can’t stand this election,” he says. “This is a battle of what I want least.” In a hypothetical universe where the election is close, he is now considering the devious path. “I might even vote for Trump at that point to give America what it asked for or wanted,” he says. “And when we have World War III, all the people who voted for him, I’ll say, ‘You go first.’”
Rainey: He is entertaining the idea that the election, as Trump suggests, might be rigged. “I live in Louisiana,” he says. “I know what politics are.” His main concern today, however, is the media. He thinks it’s a failing institution, pointing out how WikiLeaks exposed that interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile leaked questions to the Clinton campaign when she was with CNN. “I’ll probably say I’m leaning a little to Trump,” he says. He admires the guy’s resilience. “He has not given up. Regardless of the onslaught, he has not let it change him.”
Nov. 1 ― Four days after FBI Director James Comey announced an investigation into new Clinton emails
Birkner: He says the Comey announcement has confirmed his worst suspicions about Clinton. “I’m surprised you can run for the presidency when under investigation,” he says. But, at this juncture, he’s basically burned out by politics. “Our third-party candidates look like crap,” he says. “And our main party candidates: One is an idiot and other is now under investigation.” He no longer thinks he’ll even vote.
Rainey: He isn’t jumping to conclusions about the FBI investigation. “It’s a wait-and-see deal,” he says. What he’s really excited for is WikiLeaks. “Apparently Julian Assange said he is saving his best for last,” he says. He isn’t bothered that the information may have been hacked by the Russians. If anything, the continuous revelations about Clinton have turned him toward Trump. “You can’t keep lying and saying you’re not lying when every day there is an email showing you’re lying,” he says.
Nov. 7 ― One day until the election
Birkner: He says he has “absolutely no idea” who he will support. But there is a “zero percent chance” it will be for Trump or Clinton. He is still religiously following the WikiLeaks disclosures and is skeptical that the FBI managed to sift through 650,000 emails in eight days (which Comey did in the process of affirming he wouldn’t press charges against Clinton).
“The only way I would ever vote for Clinton is if for some reasons Trump was on a rampage and gaining in popularity and was blatant warmongering,” he says. “In that case, for the sake of international relations, I would cast a vote for Hillary.”
Rainey: He says he is “probably” going to go with Trump, who he’s convinced will bring good people into his cabinet. He suspects Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) will play a role and prays that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) does not.
“No, I’m not happy,” he said of his vote. “I think everybody loses no matter what. If he wins, it will be bullshit. If she wins, it will be bullshit.”
Nov. 8 ― Election Day
Birkner: He voted for Jill Stein on Tuesday morning. “It would have been for Bernie if I could have written him in,” he says. “I might not agree with all his policies, but I trust him and appreciate his honesty.”
Rainey: Overnight, he began doubting his support for Trump. He says he shuddered at the thought of the GOP nominee at the helm during an international dispute. “I just think it’s such a big choice for the future direction of the country,” he explains.
He doesn’t know what he will do yet. When he steps foot in the voting booth after work today, he will make his choice.