18-year-old students look forward to casting first-time votes in presidential election year


Special to the Sentinel/Johnson family

Ella and Shane Johnson, seniors who turned 18 Sept. 16, study election issues and prepare their ballots in October. They plan to deliver them to a Contra Costa County voting drop box.

Rachel Rosenfield, Senior Editor

For the past few months there has been one topic that just about every adult American citizen has thought about daily: the Nov. 3 United States presidential election. 

This will determine whether incumbent President Donald Trump, a business developer well known for the decade before his presidency as the star of reality show The Apprentice, will serve a second term, or if Joe Biden, former vice president under Barack Obama from 2008 to 2015 and a longtime Delaware senator, will score a win for the Democrats in his third time running. 

Many people find this election exciting because of the high stakes and how unpredictable the economy and the political arena have been, especially in the past eight months of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

For the eighteen-year-olds in America, it will be exciting for another reason. They will get to share their voices and opinions for the first time and it will be in a presidential election.

Senior Caroline Welch will get an opportunity few high school students have – to cast a vote in the Nov. 3 election during a presidential year while still a high school student.

“This is the most important election of our lifetime, so I am thrilled that this is my first year voting,” said Welch, who turned 18 Oct. 11. 

Seniors Ella and Shane Johnson, 18 since Sept. 16, will also be casting their votes this year. They emphasized the importance of being independent thinkers who are knowledgeable about all races and ballot issues. 

“One thing that is important about voting is to not let anyone sway your own opinion, even if it is your parents,” Shane Johnson said. “Vote for who or what you think is best. With the propositions, it is important to read both sides to evaluate the pros and cons in order to get the full picture.” 

“I have studied the issues, but I didn’t realize how confusing some of the propositions could be,” Ella Johnson remarked. “Many people who haven’t voted before think of the presidential election and forget about all of the local and state elections as well, but there is a lot more on the ballot than one would realize.” 

Welch and the Johnsons are not alone as young voters. According to statistics, 50 percent of voters in the 18- 24-year old age group voted in the 2016 November general election, and that turnout is predicted to be larger for this election. The age group of 18 to 24-year-olds are arguably the most important age group in elections. They have the most influence with their use of social media, and they are the people who have to live with these decisions longer than any other voting age group.

Welch emphasized how the “importance of the young vote cannot be understated,” and she urged those who are able to vote to do so.

“One of the greatest misconceptions about our generation is that we are apathetic about current events and issues, however I believe that we are actually the most informed, progressive, and open-minded generation in history,” Welch said. “Our generation is also very resilient and we certainly have the power to make an enormous difference in the outcome of this upcoming election if we turn out to vote.”

Welch also shared her presidential pick: “Undoubtedly, the most important race is the presidential election and I am supporting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”

Not only will people be voting for president, they also face decisions on local and county races ranging from city councils or community college leadership and propositions. One of these propositions could even expand the voting pool. 

California’s Proposition 18 would allow 17-years-olds who will be turning 18 by a November general election to vote in the primary election, usually held in March. Currently, this proposition applies to eighteen states and Washington, D.C. California is hoping to become the nineteenth state. 

If approved by a majority, this would allow high school seniors to have a greater part in the process of voting, allowing them to be involved in more decisions, such as who will represent the democratic party in the general election. This proposition shows that the importance of the youth vote is being recognized, and why teenagers should take advantage of their right to vote as much as possible.

Impacts of COVID-19, including quarantines, stay-at-home orders and social distancing practices hav been shaping the way people are voting. This is because voting in person now seems to be a risky option, therefore many people have been voting by mail and they do not get the opportunity to step up to a polling booth.

 Shane Johnson, who had not yet delivered his ballot when interviewed Oct. 13,  acknowledged such worries about this risk. “We will not get the whole voting experience of going to a voting poll place since COVID-19 kind of got in the way.  I feel safer doing a drop box rather than go to a poll place,” he said.

Voting is an important part of being an American citizen. It gives people a say in how their country functions and what propositions will be passed. It allows progress to be made. 

When asked how she felt about participating in this process, Ella Johnson’s enthusiasm was obvious. “I am excited, albeit a little overwhelmed, to be voting in such a momentous election,” she exclaimed, “and I’ll be proud to turn in my ballot and put on my ‘I voted!’ sticker!”