Even though he was old enough to vote in 2016, Erin Pough will be going to the polls for the first time on Nov. 3.
Pough, a senior facilities management major, registered to vote this year because he feels human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement are important, he said.
“[This year] wasn’t normal compared to last year or recent years that we have all been in the United States, so it all just hit me in that particular moment, you know what, maybe you know voting does matter or maybe my vote counts as well,” Pough said.
First-time voters at Temple University are preparing to navigate the voting process in an unprecedented election year as the United States’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the national reckoning over race relations weigh heavily on the ballot. While some students have just reached voting age, others have chosen not to vote before but are motivated by the historic nature of this year’s election to submit their ballot.
One in 10 eligible voters for the 2020 election will be from Generation Z, or people born after 1996, according to the Pew Research Center.
Samantha Padilla, a sophomore health professions major, remembers being confused with the outcome of the 2016 presidential election because her family told her that U.S. President Donald Trump wouldn’t win. She remembers deciding that when she was old enough to vote, she would do her best to make an informed decision by researching candidates prior to the election.
“It was really this year, and since I’ve been able to vote that I really got into politics,” Padilla said. “I wanted to make a very informed decision, not just kind of vote with emotion instead of policy.”
As a person of color, this summer’s renewal of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to police killings of Black individuals and Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacy at the Sept. 29 presidential debate hits “very close to home” for Padilla’s family, friends and herself, she added.
Padilla, who will be voting for the first time by mail, is also passionate about issues like climate change, the economy and COVID-19, she added.
“I think we should prioritize the health and safety of our citizens because if there are no citizens left because of [COVID-19], then there’s no economy to run,” she said. “I definitely disagree with what Donald Trump had done, the decisions he made to downplay the virus in the past few months.”
Michelle Kolodezh, a freshman nursing major, is voting for the first time this year after recently turning 18. She plans to vote in person in Bucks County on Election Day.
Kolodezh said it is important for Pennsylvania voters to vote because it is a swing state.
Pennsylvania could be a deciding factor in the winner of the Electoral College, the Washington Post reported.
Reproductive rights and pro-choice policies are issues important to Kolodezh, she said.
“I’m very worried about the Supreme Court being mostly conservative and possibly abortion is kind of up in the air,” she added. “So I would much rather have Biden. That’s just kind of like an important one for me.”
In 2016, only 46 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 voted in the general election, the New York Times reported.
In Philadelphia, groups like Philly Youth Vote and #VoteThatJawn are working to register and inform young voters across the city of how they can vote, the Philadelphia Citizen reported.
Rachelle Martinson, who was born and raised in Japan, will be voting in a U.S. election for the first time on Nov. 3.
Martinson, a senior facilities management major, feels voting is the best way for her to share her position on campaign issues.
“My dad doesn’t vote, he has a lot of opinions on it and I feel like if you have these opinions then you might as well vote,” she added. “If you’re not going to vote, why does your opinion matter?”
It’s important to get students to start voting at a young age because voting is more likely to become a habit for those who start early, said Michael Hagen, a political science professor.
“People who get in the habit of voting, keep voting and keep participating in politics,” Hagen said. “So getting students started early gets them to form good habits instead of bad habits.”
This year, the election seems to have higher stakes for young people because of issues like climate change, he added.
Fatou Seck, a sophomore film and media arts major, said she is interested in some of Biden’s policies, like free public college for families with an annual income under $125,000 and climate regulations for businesses producing greenhouse gas emissions.
Growing up, she saw her parents vote, but they didn’t force her to register to vote if she didn’t want to, she said.
“My parents voted but it’s not like a big deal if that makes sense,” Seck said. “They have their own personal opinions about the government and everything so they’re not going to force me to if I don’t want to.”
Seck plans to vote by mail in New Jersey, where she is registered.
Avery Walker feels like this election is vital for people to participate in.
“I feel like it’s just a waste for me not to,” said Walker, a sophomore media studies and production major. “If I don’t vote in this election, then like clearly I don’t think voting is important.”
She registered this year and is passionate about responding to COVID-19 and climate change, she said. She requested a mail-in ballot, but plans to turn it in at the polls and vote in person, she added.
Hagen believes the process of going to the polls to vote is important for voters because it represents unity, but understands why this year the polls will look different than in the past, he said.
“It feels like I’m taking part in something that many, many, many other Americans are taking part in that same day,” he said. “I think that there’s a sense that brings us if not unity, at least common purpose I think could be beneficial for everybody.”