COVID-19 concerns. Confusion over mail-in ballots. Restricted access to the polls. Young voters casting ballots for the first time are facing unprecedented challenges in a historic election year, but it's not stopping them from making their voices heard and getting engaged, with enthusiasm among young voters nationwide reaching historic highs and turnout on track to set a record.
In addition to the voting challenges, many young voters are making their decision for a presidential candidate for the first time amid the pandemic and nationwide protests, including in Detroit, in response to systemic racism and police brutality.
There are nearly 47 million 18- to 29-year-old eligible voters in the 2020 election, and many have already weighed in. In Michigan, as of Oct. 27 more than 220,000 adults ages 18-29 have already voted, with more than 380,000 voters requesting ballots, according to research by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning at Tufts University. In every state the researchers are tracking, including Michigan, the number of absentee and early votes cast as of seven days before Election Day were far higher than at the same point in 2016.
When it comes to their views on key social and policy issues, millennials and Generation Z (those born between 1981 and 1996 and after 1996, respectively), share a lot of the same views. According to surveys by the Pew Research Center conducted in the fall of 2018, Gen Zers tend to be progressive and pro-government and most see the country’s growing racial and ethnic diversity as a positive. Furthermore, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center, Gen Zers and millennials are similar when it comes to political preferences. Among registered voters, 61% of Gen Z voters said in January they were definitely or probably going to vote for the Democratic candidate for president in the 2020 election, while about a quarter (22%) said they were planning to vote for President Donald Trump.
Dylan J. Pescarolo, 21, a junior at Oakland University majoring in political science and a chapter leader for the College Republicans, is one of those voters. He plans to vote for the president in person on Tuesday.
"The primary reason as to why is because the Republican Party stands for the rights of unborn children, intends on preserving our constitutional rights, and supports the free market," says Pescarolo, who lives in Fenton. As a voter, the most important issue to him is whether a candidate supports abortion or not, he says, adding candidates who are anti-abortion "can count on my vote."
Andrew Schaeffler, 19, a sophomore at the University of Michigan, is excited about his first election because "so many of these pressing issues impact our generation more than nearly every other generation. From fighting climate change to ensuring we build back better from COVID, our generation is going to face the harshest impacts of all of these crises." He voted absentee.
"I am over the moon about participating in this election and truly could not be happier to be able to vote, and not just vote, but vote for candidates that share my values and will make a positive difference through public policy, from Joe Biden for President to state house and county commissioner candidates," Schaeffler says.
In 2019, he founded Students for Biden as a freshman at the University of Michigan. Throughout the election season the group has worked to reach as many people as possible, "from the undecided Bernie Sanders supporter in the primary, to a swing voter in Macomb County," he says.
And for those who are not able to vote yet, they are still interested in what happens.
Syeda Islam, 18, who lives in Hamtramck and is a senior at Benjamin Carson High School, has permanent residency status. She and her family immigrated from Bangladesh to the United States in 2014. Since she won’t be a citizen in time for the election (she is in the process of applying for citizenship), Islam is ineligible to vote, but her father recently became a citizen and voted for Biden, says Islam, who would vote if she could.
Islam finds it hard to see the cases of the COVID-19 rise rapidly and many citizens including her own relatives still struggling with lack of access to health insurance during the global crisis.
For Islam, she wants a president who won’t neglect the Muslim community. “I actually want someone who will support and accept all the cultures and all religions.”
At 17, Rave Andrews, a senior at West Bloomfield High School, is not eligible to vote but that hasn't stopped her from getting involved. She is the founder and president of her school's Democratic club and is a fellow for the Democratic Party, campaigning for Biden and Peters.
For Andrews, the “Black Lives Matter movement is important to me. People try to counter Black Lives Matter by saying all lives matter, but all lives matter can’t matter until Black Lives Matter because they are the ones in danger right now."
Historically turnout among young voters has been on the low side. In the 2016 election, 46% of 18- to 29-year-old voted, the lowest turnout among all age groups, with voters ages 65 and older reporting the highest turnout, according to the census. But young voters were the only group to see an increase in turnout from 2012, and this year with the pandemic and social justice movements, the polls suggest it will increase even more.
Before the campaign, Andrews says she didn't know too much about politics but knew this election was important so she had to get involved.
"I became a fellow because I think it's so important for people to vote and know what's going on in politics," she says.
Mahbuba Rahat is a senior at Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine and a student reporter for Model D. You can read her previous essays here and here.