Historically, voter turnout among younger age groups has been lacking, perhaps until now. Residents aged 18 to 29 years old have accounted for a small percentage of the vote and have notoriously been absent in mid-term elections, but experts this year predict the number of people voting in the Nov. 6 election will be significantly higher than in the past, including a rise in the nation’s youngest voters. First-time voters in South Jersey recently sounded off on what is motivating them to get to the polls this year.
— Nicole Leonard
Guy Pastrana, 18, of EHT
Even before he was eligible to vote, Pastrana kept up with local and national politics, even helping his mom decide who to vote for each year, he said.
Pastrana will go into the voting booth this year to vote in favor of people who support addressing environmental issues and the negative polarization that has gripped Washington, D.C., politics, he said.
Despite his enthusiasm, he said some others his age don’t share in the same interests, are indifferent or don’t think their vote will matter.
“Even if they think their individual votes don’t matter, there are tons of people out there who don’t agree with them on issues they care about, and they are voting, so if young people aren’t voting, they aren’t going to get what they want,” he said.
Chloe Tyner, 18, of EHT
When Tyner was younger, she would get excited to go to the polls with her parents before going to school that day, she said, which makes it all the more meaningful to her as she now gets to cast her own vote.
Since the 2016 election, Tyner, 18, of Egg Harbor Township, said she’s looking forward to voting for a candidate that is not insensitive toward the “rights of different people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion and other factors.”
“I think younger age groups are starting to encourage each other to get out to the polls and vote, using sources like social media to communicate their thoughts and feelings on the importance of being heard by voting,” she said.
Kierra McNally, 22, of Margate
McNally didn’t vote in previous elections, even though she was eligible, but this year will be different.
“When I turned 18 years old, I was aware that my opinions were not impartial,” she said. “Everything that I had learned about politics had been spoon-fed to me by friends, family and educators. I believe my lack of interest in voting stemmed from my inability to form my own set of opinions on the current issues.”
The graduate school student said by getting access to more in-depth information on issues, she’s now able to better measure the impact her vote will have. She places a heavy emphasis on finding unbiased research that can be used to validate or change viewpoints.
“The noise of political discourse makes the truth harder to recognize,” McNally said. “There needs to be an easier way, for voters, to seek certainty and validity. Our sources of news and information must be unbiased and promote honesty in reporting the facts.”
Kassandra Macaya, 18, of EHT
After the 2016 election, Macaya took a deeper look at politics and voting to get ready for her turn to vote when she turned 18. And she believes she was not alone.
“In my experience, a lot of us are seeing that we have a voice, and that we can’t just stand back and watch everything that’s going on,” she said. “We are interested in politics and a multitude of issues more than ever now because they ultimately affect our future.”
The 18-year-old Egg Harbor Township resident said issues like gun violence, LGBT+ rights and women’s health rights — things that she feels have been threatened and wants to protect — have become major factors in who she decides to vote for.
As for people who aren’t voting this midterm election?
“If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about issues that you feel strongly for because you took no action,” she said. “Voting is a civic duty and it’s one of the most important things you can do to voice your opinions and make a change.”
Jabryl Guy, 18, of EHT
Guy has been looking forward to the day he could vote since he was 14.
The 18-year-old Egg Harbor Township resident said one thing that is especially motivating him to go vote in this election year is health care. He strongly believes in a Medicare-for-all system that decreases the cost of health care per citizen and makes sure people don’t go without coverage, no matter their income.
And while he’s taken an active interest in politics and issues, Guy said he’s not so sure everyone else his age does.
“But while I feel our generation is more informed, I think as they hear about the news and politics they become more jaded and complacent since articles with negative tones seem to have become the norm,” he said.
Walker Atkinson, 18, of EHT
Atkinson was too young to do anything when the 2016 presidential election came around and President Donald Trump was elected, but now he has a chance to vote via mail-in ballot, he said.
“People think they don’t have to speak up for an issue ... but that’s outright wrong,” he said. “We need to get out to the polls and fight for what we want.”
The 18-year-old Yale University freshman said meeting with legislators like U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and interning with outgoing U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s, was eye-opening and gave him good ideas about the political atmosphere in Washington, D.C.
His experiences have inspired him to major in political science and pay attention to candidates who listen to what is important to young voters like college tuition.
“There’s no greater time for millennials and younger voters to get out and hit the polls.”