By Hannah Esqueda
Photo by Hannah Esqueda
Merced,Calif.–For many first-time voters, the initial excitement surrounding the voting process can quickly give way to stress as they navigate the lengthy and sometimes intimidating electoral process. Local youth voters also say the upset victory of Republican Donald Trump has left them surprised, but not necessarily disillusioned with the process.
“No one in my family has ever voted before, so voting for the first time made me a little nervous,” says Cassandra Avitia, an 18-year-old freshmen at Merced Community College. “The last couple of weeks before the election day I was concerned whether I’d actually know what to do.”
From finding the correct voting precinct and waiting in line, to learning about many national, state and local ballot issues; the election process can be a daunting.
When her mail-in ballot arrived, Avitia decided to fill it out at home where she could easily look up additional information on key issues. For the first time voter, this made a made a huge difference.
“I definitely felt much more comfortable at home, knowing it wouldn’t matter if I took 10 or 30 minutes,” she says. “I went through each [proposition] and considered the pros and cons, which took me a while because they can be somewhat confusing.”
That confusion could have been amplified by the state’s long list of 17 propositions. Several of the proposed measures were around similar topics, such as Propositions 66 and 62 which proposed two very different actions on the death penalty: Prop. 62 would have banned capital punishment, while Prop. 66, which narrowly passed, speeds up executions by making a series of changes to the death penalty appeals procedures.
Despite the complicated wording of several ballot items, 18-year-old Victor Seguin says he enjoyed having the chance to weigh in on decisions that affect his community.
“I was excited about voting on all the propositions rather than for the candidates, because those are the things that really make a difference,” he says.
Seguin voted in person Nov. 8 at the Merced County Administration building, where he says the experience was not at all what he was expecting.
“It was real chaotic,” Seguin says. “It kind of made me feel like I didn’t want to [vote] anymore.”
He says that apathy quickly changed once he saw the election night results.
Seguin, who chose a third party candidate over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Trump, says that he feels more determined than ever to have his political voice heard.
He’s not alone, as many youth voters turned away from the major political parties this November. According to exit poll numbers from National Public Radio, eight percent of voters ages 18-29 nationally voted for third party candidates this year — nearly triple the number of younger voters who went third party in 2012.
While Tuft University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement still found that 55 percent of youth voters came out in support for Clinton and 37 percent voted for Trump, the rising of third-party support may be proof of the diversity within the youth vote – and many young people’s unhappiness with the divisive campaign season.
Some Merced youth voters say that while they may have been disappointed with the eventual results, they are still motivated to vote in future elections.
“I’ve always wanted to vote and help pick the president,” says Alex Salas, an 18-year-old senior at Golden Valley High School in Merced. “It means a lot to me and I’m excited to be able to pick the person that I believe should run our country.”
Salas is a member of the city’s Youth Council, a youth counterpart to the Merced City Council. He says that while he’s disappointed with the Republican win, he still believes in the importance of exercising his right to vote.
Avitia says that the shock from Trump’s upset over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton left her feeling numb for a while.
“I just didn’t see it coming. I honestly did not expect Trump to get it at all,” she says. “I was most motivated to vote for the president because the idea of having Trump as a president just seemed like a nightmare or a joke.”
The first-time voter says she’s still planning on returning to the polls next time, even though her candidate didn’t win.
“Unfortunately, Trump did win the election,” she says. “But I still do feel like my voice was heard because I know [Clinton] got California. This election definitely got me more interested in the process.”