First time voters

America’s Newest Voters

In a pivotal election,
an earnest obligation

Every U.S. presidential election provides an opportunity for millions of newly eligible voters to make their voices count. This year, meet six of them.

“This year is the most important election in our lifetime!” Americans will warn you, across the political spectrum. “Vote. It’s your civic duty!”

If that kind of talk ratchets up the pressure for longtime voters, imagine what it does to those who are preparing to vote of the first time. Potentially 10 million people — young adults and naturalized citizens — who were not able to vote in 2012 are now eligible to vote in the 2016 presidential election.

They are a diverse group, reflective of a country founded by immigrants. And they are affected by a wide range of issues.

So it is no surprise that they have widely divergent opinions about what makes or doesn’t make America “great.”

Young voters on the rise

Across the United States, young adults — ages 18-29 — make up the majority of new voters: 62 percent in 2008. But they are also the least likely group to register to vote and to cast a ballot on election day.

Those who are politically active, no matter what party they belong to, are perplexed by this.

“[Voting] is a way that we remind our leaders that they are accountable to we, the people,” said Elle Rogers, a young conservative Christian and first-time voter. “They derive their legitimacy from the consent of the governed.”

“Most of us in America … we live a comfortable life,” added Aya Elamroussi, an Egyptian-American student and first-time voter, registered as a Democrat. “It’s very easy to be in a democratic country and be comfortable with it, and not fight for the rights that you already have … but for other countries that are striving for that ... voting is a privilege.”

Still, young first-time voters are not very enthusiastic about their major party candidates: Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

Elamroussi, for one, is backing Clinton specifically to avoid Trump, a candidate whose rhetoric, she fears, has the power to spark violence among his most ardent supporters.

“There’s a difference between choosing someone because it’s the only option there, and choosing someone because you actually want it,” she said. “I’m choosing her because it’s the only option for me."

Jace Laquerre feels similarly about his choices, just in reverse.

A reluctant Trump supporter, Laquerre — who served as the youngest delegate at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland — says his choice reflects an anti-Clinton vote more than anything.

“My generation, if she gets elected, is going to be overseas fighting in senseless wars that we don’t need to be involved in,” he said.

But Laquerre calls his own party’s nominee an opportunist. “I have a lot of reservations about him still,” Laquerre said. “He says whatever is politically advantageous at the moment.”

New citizens, mixed turnout

Depending on ethnic minority group, turnout rates among new citizens have varied widely in past elections. In 2012, Hispanic and Asian-American voters recorded among the lowest rates of ballots cast, 48 percent and 47 percent, respectively — roughly 20 percent less than non-Hispanic whites (64 percent) and African-Americans (67 percent).

This would be an especially significant statistic in a close election, especially for Democrats and independents. New voters tend to skew toward the Democratic Party rather than the Republican Party, according to Gallup. Pew says more than two-thirds of first-time voters represent racial and ethnic minorities.

In 2008, first-time voters — accounting for 12 percent of total U.S. ballots cast — voted by more than a 2-to-1 margin for President Barack Obama over his Republican rival, Arizona Senator John McCain.

This election, the stakes and choices are stark.

“There’s no muddy water between the two. … Clinton is one way and Trump is another,” said first-time voter Amanda Lugg, a naturalized English and Ugandan-American citizen. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Russian-American Oleg Jelezniakov absolutely intends to be at the table.

“It was blood, sweat and tears, literally, and thousands and thousands of dollars,” Jelezniakov said about the immense stress of becoming a U.S. citizen. The costs have amounted to a right that he believes should be treasured forever.

“I really worked my butt off,” Jelezniakov said. “Now I get to vote for the president, and that validates my being a citizen.”