What does it mean to vote for the first time?

Vanderbilt freshmen and professors on the significance of their first time voting

Election Day: November 6, 2018 in Clarksville, TN (Photo by Claire Barnett)

This year’s midterm elections had Americans fired up to make their voices heard. One in six voters said that 2018 was their first time voting in a midterm election, according to an exit poll by NBC.

For many young people, their first voting experience is their first time being active participants in the government. Vanderbilt freshmen expressed their excitement about breaking into the political world and their convictions that voting is an important right.

“It has a really big weight to me, because it really matters and I want to make sure that I do vote,” said freshman Emma Francis, who voted in Florida by absentee ballot. “I requested my absentee ballot because I was just so excited to exercise that right, and be a part of that informed citizenry that takes that right and makes it happen.”

Freshman Collin Lawrence voted early in Texas during his fall break, and he reiterated the message that the chance to take action was exciting. Other students, like Sarah Kohn, voted in person at the polls on Tuesday. Kohn is from Maryland but registered to vote in Nashville.

“I voted because I think participating in democracy is really important. 100 years ago I wouldn’t have had the right to vote, so I think it’s my duty to vote for the people who fought so hard to get women the right to vote. And also to vote for changes in human rights and all these things that I don’t think are happening in our government right now, that I think that I have the power to change,” she said.

Vanderbilt professors recalled their experiences voting for the first time, emphasizing the meaning behind the first expression of the civic duty.

“The first [election] I voted in was 1992, and we had had eight years of Reagan and four years of Bush 1, and what I remember is thinking ‘this could actually change things,’” History professor Katherine Crawford said. “And I felt like it did. And it was so exciting.”

Human and Organizational Development professor Nancy Nolan’s first time voting was in the 1980 election, when Republican Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter in the presidential race.

“It was, for me, pretty disheartening, but I was glad to have the opportunity to vote,” she said. “I think voting is every citizen’s very strong obligation.”

College students were often reminded to vote during this year’s midterm elections, whether by celebrities, like Taylor Swift, or social media campaigns. Young people historically vote less than any other demographic; according to the Washington Post, only 16% of Americans ages 18 to 29 voted in the 2014 midterms. Despite their differing political views, Vanderbilt freshman could all agree that all young people should vote.

“Everything affects you, even from before you can vote, so you might as well vote once you’re able to,” said Lawrence.

Young people make up one of the most potent political forces, Kohn said.

“People often emphasize that our age range right now, 18 to 22, is the people who can really make a difference recently, so I think it’s exciting that we can all go out and get the polls,” she said. “And I hope that more 18 year olds decide to vote.”

Others recognized that voting is important, irrespective of one’s age.

“Even though people don’t think it does, their vote does matter,” Francis said. “You can’t not vote and then complain about who’s in office because if you didn’t make a decision you don’t get to complain about what we’re stuck with.”

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