You Never Forget Your First Time…Voting

First-Time Voters Reflect On Their Experience In This Election


NSPA Flickr Archives

An ‘I Voted’ sticker for those who cast their ballot on Election Day. Photo courtesy of NSPA Flickr Archives

By Zach Joseph, Francis W. Parker Junior/High School

Lines stretched around the block, sometimes wrapping around twice or three times to accommodate the mass of those wishing to cast their ballots on Election Day. Masks adorned the faces of every line attendee, each a different color, texture, and shape, allowing a passerby to see only the eyes of determined voters. Despite a worldwide pandemic, Americans still came together to uphold their civic duty and cast their ballots for their elected officials, some opting to do it via mail, and others choosing to do so in person.

Among the experienced citizens who cast their ballots on Election Day were newly-registered first-time voters, some of whom were as young as 18 years old. In fact, several news outlets reported an increase of as much as 10% in voter turnout among ages 18-29, an extreme contrast to the previous presidential election in 2016. President-Elect Joe Biden had the support of 61% of these voters, which may have been the key to propel his win for the presidency.

Several of these first-time voters were members of the Parker senior class, like senior Aziza Mabrey-Wakefield, who had mixed feelings about voting in her first presidential election.

“It was exciting, yet very stressful to receive a mail-in ballot,” Mabrey-Wakefield said. “There are a lot of things you have to fill out and a lot of hoops to go through. But I think, especially this election, it was worth it to go through all of that.”

Others, like senior Yildis Rihter, used this opportunity to be informed about who they thought would make a difference in the U.S.

“When I got my mail-in ballot, I opened it, I went into my room, I had my computer next to me, just because I like to do my research,” Rihter said. “This is the first year that I’ve actually paid attention to politics, which sounds bad, but I’ve never been one that is super interested in politics, just because I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it. But it’s uncomfortable at times.”

For Mabrey-Wakefield, the ability to vote influenced her consumption of political news and information leading up to the election.

“I was definitely more in tune with the news than I was before,” Mabrey-Wakefield said. “I don’t know if that was because I am in the Elections class too, but I definitely wanted to be notified about more policies and anything that changed, what both candidates were up to, so I will say I was definitely more informed with this election because I wanted to know the issues before I voted.”

Unlike Mabrey-Wakefield, senior Oscar Fardon did not intentionally increase his news consumption prior to voting for the first time.

“I wasn’t going out and seeking it,” Fardon said. “But just by being surrounded by people that can vote and being surrounded by people who are increasingly interested in the political world, I’ve generally got exposed to more of that and took a slight interest in myself just because it’s so concerning for people I’m close with.”

Social media was a huge component in incentivizing voters’ awareness of political topics and issues, but with this knowledge came plenty of misinformation for readers to consume as well. Facebook took measures two days after Election Day to combat this, by adding additional temporary steps to curb the spread of incorrect news posts, and Twitter flagged any tweets containing false information with alerts indicating the misleading wording and facts.

As someone who consumed a lot of political information on social media platforms, Rihter made sure to take the time to double check information she found online.

“I don’t like it when people just feedback what they’ve heard. I’m an evidence person, I like to look at data and stuff like that. If I see it on social media, there’s a good chance I’m a little skeptical in a way just because it is Instagram at the end of the day,” Rihter said. “So I personally like to go on Google. And then based on what I see on like, Instagram and stuff, so I look it up and I kind of like fact check to check it in a way just because I want to see it for myself. I don’t want to just be someone who’s just absorbing whatever Instagram is telling me because who knows what those posts are, if they’re accurate. I don’t want to be misinformed. That is my biggest fear ever.”

Aside from voting, students could also register to be a poll worker, allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to get a chance to participate in the election without being able to vote. In addition to voting, Fardon also signed up to be a poll worker, and helped register and handle incoming votes on November 3.

“This year, especially, I think my first experience was probably a little bit negative. It was fine, but it was a little bit negative just because this election is so polarized, and people are freaking out,” Fardon said. “Most people, I think this is true of most places in Chicago and Illinois, but especially for my ward and precinct, most people voted mail-in or early voting. I was pretty much just sitting there waiting for like, the occasional voter the whole day. So it was a little bit boring, but it was nice. I felt like I made a difference.”

While the legal voting age is 18 in the U.S, plenty of young adults still wanted opportunities to make their voices heard and help out in future elections.

“Even if you can’t vote, getting involved in a campaign is a great idea, I’ve done that before.” Mabrey-Wakefield said. “You can also listen to presentations and also be informed, watching the news. But also be careful about what news outlets you’re getting your information from. I think the best thing you can do is find what is most important to you, and then find a candidate who represents that.”

Rihter agrees, as she too thought of several ways those who cannot vote can still make a difference in a democracy.

“Just like raising awareness of ways people can register to vote, ways that they can see if their vote has been counted,” Rihter said. “But I mean, there are a lot of ways to make your voice heard. Even if you can’t vote, a lot of the people that weren’t able to vote, but still were really active on Instagram, those people did also have an impact on me and the things I was Googling. I think as long as you want to be active in the political realm, you can.”

This story was originally published on The Weekly on November 24, 2020.