Photos (from top left clockwise) by Douglas Soule, Amelia Ferrell Knisely, Lauren Peace and Lucas Manfield.

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There’s a lot at stake in this year’s elections,  for the country and our state. But it’s not about Donald Trump and Joe Biden, or Jim Justice and Ben Salango. It’s about West Virginians.

At Mountain State Spotlight we’re building a different kind of journalism, in which our neighbors are part of the reporting process.  Part of holding power to account is lifting up voices that might not otherwise be heard.

So rather than focus on horse-race coverage or chasing the latest in the campaign ad wars, our reporters fanned out to four corners of the state, and asked you what is on your mind at this crucial moment in our history.

These stories are part of what we heard from you.

Jennifer King on the property of her apiary in Jefferson County. Photo by Lauren Peace.

For some Eastern Panhandle residents, the sale of a former orchard to Danish insulation company Rockwool sparked a wave of political activism.

Jennifer King is a beekeeper. She used to have hives on the orchard where the factory moved in, and currently has an apiary less than a mile away. King said she didn’t pay attention to local politics before Rockwool.

“I was asleep. I was raising three children, I was running a business. I had my own life and I would hear things on TV now and again, but I had this feeling that local and state government didn’t impact me,” King said. “For most of my life I felt like my vote didn’t matter. That’s how I felt.”

Read more from reporter Lauren Peace’s story: How quality of life issues ‘woke up’ residents in the Eastern Panhandle

Tishawana Terry walks down her childhood street in East Wheeling. Photo by Lucas Manfield

The location of a polling place in a county building and next to the police department is just one of many things that Wheeling advocates like Tishawana Terry want changed to address racial injustices that have persisted in the city for generations. Recent incidents of racism — fueled, some argue, by racist rhetoric from the nation’s political leaders — have added urgency to the drive to raise up the voices of the Black community, and get them to the voting booth to cast a ballot in this year’s election.

Read more from reporter Lucas Manfield’s story: Wheeling’s Black community hopes for record turnout, despite the ‘chilling effect’ of a neighborhood polling place

Taylor Napier and Walker Mallory moved to Fayetteville in March. Photo by Amelia Ferrell Knisely

Fayetteville has experienced a tourism boom during the pandemic with its scenic hiking trails, world-renowned rock climbing and popular restaurants.

But the recreation boom can be problematic, especially for residents, and one of the biggest concerns in the community is building an infrastructure that adequately supports and sustains tourism and recreation growth.

Some young adults say they’d would like to see a governor not just invest in getting people to the area but also focus on attracting people to move there permanently.

“We need to attract workers who can work from home,” Walker Mallory, 29, said. He moved to Fayetteville in March. “But we need housing.”

Read more from reporter Amelia Ferrell Knisely’s story: Can Fayetteville, W.Va. harness a tourism boom to improve residents’ lives?

Amber McCoy at Kellogg Elementary School. Photo by Douglas Soule.

Things have been different for everyone this year, but that’s especially true for teachers. Like most teachers during the pandemic, Kellogg Elementary School teacher Amber McCoy has had to master new technology in a short period of time. Teaching was never easy, and McCoy, who is also the president of the Wayne County Education Association, can attest that it’s become even harder during a pandemic. 

“It’s double duty. It’s everything I’m doing in the classroom, transferred online,” she said. 

Added to her teaching duties are the demands placed on her as a citizen, educator and union leader by the 2020 general election, which ends on Nov. 3. And this year, as they have been in recent years, West Virginia’s teachers are very politically engaged. 

“It’s been very important for us to vet every candidate and make sure that they understand how vital education is to the success of the state of West Virginia,” McCoy said. “Every year, we shouldn’t have to fight to do our jobs and that’s really the position that we’ve been put in.”

Read more from reporter Douglas Soule’s story: West Virginia teachers take on a pandemic, epidemic and a consequential election

Mountain State Spotlight will be bringing you pieces like these, along with powerful watchdog stories and deeply-reported investigations. Our mission is to give West Virginians the journalism they need to help make the state a better place. Sign up for our weekly newsletter for a curated look at what we’re covering, delivered to your inbox every Monday. And help us investigate by letting us know about stories that need told in your corner of the Mountain State. Email contact@mountainstatespotlight.org.