Real Talk with First-Time Voters
November 16, 2022
Young voters turned out in record numbers during the 2022 midterm elections. Citizens & Scholars President Raj Vinnakota sat down with two first-time voters to hear about what it meant to cast their ballot this year, what motivated their involvement, and what adults can do to encourage the next generation of voters.
Raj spoke with Sumiya Rahaman, 18, a 2022 Civic Spring Fellow and senior at Westminister High School in Westminster, MD, and Chris Mesfin, 18, a first-year student at Harvard University from Columbia, Missouri.
Rajiv Vinnakota: How did it feel to vote for the first time?
Sumiya: I was super excited to vote even before November 8th. And I went in person because my parents wanted me to go in person and take pictures. I was very much focused on the local election because I do a lot of work with education equity in my school district. And I was super excited to vote specifically for the board of education race because we wanted to see some changes in new policy specifically pertaining to equity and inclusion.
Chris: Voting for the first time, it felt great. I voted by mail because I’m up here in Massachusetts right now, so I didn’t get to go in person to the polls. But it still felt great. Voting has always been something that I’ve talked about. I’ve talked to my older relatives and my older friends who were able to vote. But it was completely different voting. Similar to Sumiya, a lot of the races that I was paying more attention to were local elections, specifically for our Boone County presiding Commissioner and our Boone County Prosecutor.
Raj: It’s really refreshing hearing the focus and understanding of local community elections. You’re both pointing out that so many of the decisions that happen so close to home have such an impact. How did you get knowledgeable about those local community situations?
Sumiya: For me, it has been a lot of personal issues in the school system with racism. I live in a majority white county and a majority white school. And our school district is very, very conservative. For myself and my peers who are POC or BIPOC students, we oftentimes face racism in the school system. And when we would try to bring it up to our counselors, it wouldn’t necessarily be taken too seriously.
That’s how we got involved with the Board of Education and pushing for equitable changes in the school systems, specifically with equitable policies and establishing a head of equity for our school district.
I did a lot of my own research because I was invested in the policies. By doing the research for the board of ed, I then wanted to do more research on who my district commissioner was. Then find out who was running for attorney general and all those other races just to be informed.Related: Vote Because The World Might Just Depend On It
Chris: I got involved with elections through a personal connection and I feel like a lot of young people can align with that. But for me, that personal connection was the environment and sustainability in general. The big thing within my county has been going net zero by 2030. So that political narrative was something that really fueled my voting in the most recent election in terms of how I knew about these specific elections and these specific candidates that were running in my county.
I did a lot of my own personal research. It’s hard because it’s a lot of candidates telling you what you want to hear. But really going deeper than just the website of the candidate that’s running and seeing where they’re sourcing their funding, how they’re getting different resources, is something that informed my voting quite a bit.
Raj: How did the outcome of the election affect your view of voting moving forward?
Chris: I think that the outcome of the election matters very little in comparison to whether I actually voted. So I think that seeing that things can change and that my voice does matter, specifically on the local level, incentivizes me to vote in the future.
But not seeing change on the federal level when it comes to house seats and senate seats, that doesn’t dissuade me in any way to vote because of the civic value that I see in voting.
Sumiya: For me, I think the outcome of the election doesn’t matter as much in terms of what we should do next. Right now, our board of ed votes are still counting and it seems very close and I keep checking the numbers. But a lot of the other local races have already been decided and I’m not really happy about them. But I am very happy about the statewide and the federal level races.
There’s been some wins and losses and I think moving forward, I’m still going to continue to vote obviously, but I think we need to discuss more on what are the initiatives we should take to hold these candidates accountable for what they claim to want to do.
Real Talk: Voting Advice for Adults
Two first-time voters give C&S President Raj Vinnakota some advice for adults wanting to encourage young people to vote and be civically engaged.
Raj: I’m a parent with a 16-year-old daughter. What should I be doing now and between now and when she turns 18 to support her, so that she’s an engaged citizen?
Sumiya: Have conversations. I think one of the ways that my parents and I bonded was through news and asking them to sit and watch the news with me. If you do that with your daughter, or if any parent does that like, “Hey, come on and let’s watch the news, or let’s discuss this current topic or something that’s going on in their school.” I think that really brings people together and gets young people excited or motivated on issues that they might not think is affected by politics, but it really is affected by politics.
It gives them the chance to think, maybe I should start considering how everything works with voting and different candidates and what they’re supporting and how that might influence my future.
Chris: There isn’t a young person in the world that isn’t passionate about something. Finding that passion and just listening to what she says. Maybe guiding her and using your experience to guide hers in a way, is something that I would recommend.
Listening and trying to identify what things she cares about. Having those conversations is something that really helped me to get involved in the first place. I also think it should be noted that you don’t have to have any really specific knowledge when it comes to whatever issue that your kid really cares about. I think for my parents, neither of them really cared much about environmental science at all, but they were willing to listen to me talk about it for hours.
And I think that’s something that’s invaluable as a kid. Having that soundboard to just talk about things that they really care about is something that’s invaluable when it comes to them being further involved in that issue.
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