What I Wish I Knew as a First Time Voter

One week from today, we vote.

In many places, there are not a ton of positions to vote for this time around, but it is still important nonetheless to use your voice and vote. Especially with the upcoming presidential election in 2020, it’s time to start thinking about the future.

I was a first time voter last year and today I wanted to break it down a bit and talk about what it really feels like to do your civic duty, especially because for so many people it can be an intimidating process. According to the United States Census Bureau, “18- to 29-year-olds, voter turnout went from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018, the largest percentage point increase for any age group.” But we can do more. We need to do more.

I turned 18 last November, just days before the election. I had registered in advance because I knew it was important to utilize this right, but I don’t think I truly understood why or what it meant.

I remember getting excited when my local newspaper released their candidate guide for the local election because I wanted to educate myself on their standings and feel confident about who I voted for. I also remember the angry disbelief I felt upon realizing their “candidate guide” was nothing more than the candidates marital status, how many kids they have, where they went to school, and their political party.

How was I supposed to figure who would do the most for my local government when all I was given to create an opinion on was the basic information that could be found on their Facebook profile and nothing about what local issues matter to them and how they plan to act?

I searched up their names, and I went to their campaign sites, but found nothing more than their standing on one local issue. I had to base my entire vote for mayor on one issue. I was beyond frustrated and in that moment I understood why people don’t vote.

I felt good knowing that I had just voted for the first time, but also a bit disappointed I didn’t have more confidence in who I was voting for.

It’s impossible to find information about candidates without doing a full-on police-type investigation and unfortunately not every American has the time to do all that digging, so many voters are left in the dark and end up asking neighbors and friends who they plan to vote for and go from there. How sad is it that we live in a country where forming your own opinion can be such a chore?

How sad is it that we live in a country where forming your own opinion can be such a chore?

For the 2020 election I’m starting my research early. I’m paying attention to the news, I’m paying attention to the debates, and I’m studying up on candidates my favorite celebrities are endorsing before blindly following in their footsteps and endorsing them too. My neighbor’s opinion, my favorite celebrity’s opinion, or even my parents’ opinions, are not MY opinions. I have enormous amounts of respect for these people, but I want to be the one to decide for myself who I agree with and who I don’t, and who I think is fit to run this country or my local government and who is not.

If you feel lost, overwhelmed, or don’t even know where to begin, I’ve got you. Start by going to ISideWith.com. It is one of the best quizzes out there for determining your political position. Whether you want to see exactly which candidates you’re on the same page with, or what political party you identify most with, this website has it all and makes it a lot easier to understand who you should vote for.

It only takes a few minutes to answer some questions about your opinion on certain issues and how important they are to you. You can answer more about certain categories that mean more to you particular, and so much more. It then takes your answers and opinions and compares them to those of the political candidates so you can then see who your views align the best with. You can then read up on all the candidates and learn more about their standings on the issues that matter most to them. It is so incredibly important to educate yourself about these things before going to vote.

I advise against just picking a party and voting for everyone in that party, unless straight ticket voting is all that is allowed. Generalizations in politics are dangerous. If you think all candidates of a political party are the same, why do so many of them run against each other? Do your research and decide which PERSON you think has the most potential, not the PARTY.

Especially in local elections, you more than likely live in a community that is either mainly democratic or republican, and there is not much in-between. For example, I live in a very typically republican city, so almost all the candidates I had to choose from were republicans, however they all are different people with different opinions and ideas of what needs to be done in my local government. Simply saying “I’m gonna vote democrat” doesn’t work in a situation when there are 6 republicans running and absolutely no democrats, and in local elections that can happen or be vice versa. Do your research on each candidate, even if they aren’t in the party you typically agree with because if you still want to have a say you have to work with what you’re given.

I personally don’t like to label myself as a member of a political party, but I definitely agree with one a lot more than the other. I prefer to refer to politics in terms of Liberal, Moderate, and Conservative. Are there still a lot prejudices surrounding these labels as well? Oh for sure, but at least they are a bit more descriptive than saying “I’m one or the other.” Politics is not that simple, and that’s why they made a box for when you vote so you can declare yourself as independent. You really don’t have to pick a side, and if you do that’s totally fine too, just don’t feel obligated to sign your soul away to a party if you aren’t 100% certain it’s what you want to do.

On that note, I’d just like to say that it is absolutely no one’s business how you identify politically. You can still be an advocate without branding yourself a member of a certain party. If you decide you want to choose a party, it can be pretty scary, especially nowadays since the political climate is so intense. You’re not automatically a bad guy for being a republican and you’re not automatically a good guy for being a democrat or vice versa. It’s not about enemies and allies, we all want what is the best for people. Unfortunately we all just have a different idea of what that looks like.

It’s not about enemies and allies, we all want what is the best for people. Unfortunately we all just have a different idea of what that looks like.

Politics is an intricate system that is plagued with generalizations so please do your best not group people together if they claim a party. A couple examples in case you’re confused would be if someone said: “ALL republicans are christians who hate the LGBTQ+ community” or that “ALL democrats are pot-smoking liberal extremists.” These statements are not true of every member of a political party, but there seems to be some unspoken understanding that people believe these statements to be at least mostly true, which is a very toxic way of understanding or trying to understand politics.

I urge you to come up with your own opinions and not blindly follow those of one specific political party because it really is okay to agree with some points and disagree with others. Politics isn’t about loyalty to a party, it’s about the people. There is a reason why voting is done anonymously. Don’t feel obligated to talk politics with people you know are looking to pick a fight. YOUR OPINIONS ARE VALID, but also your opinions are allowed to change. If you take the quiz now, take it again in a few months and see how your standings on certain issues have changed. There’s nothing wrong with healthy discussions about these issues, but please don’t forget to be respectful of other’s opinions. If you can’t have a respectful political conversation with an open mind then I really recommend not having these discussions at all.

One more quick thing for this upcoming election: Another really great resource to check out, especially for info on state election candidates, is Ballotpedia. Here you can type in your home address and find out exactly what you’ll be asked to vote for on your ballot and read bios about the candidates so there are no surprises when you go to cast your vote.

If you are 18, or going to be by the time the election occurs next week and/or next year, REGISTER TO VOTE NOW! It only takes a few minutes, get it done, educate yourself, form some opinions, and do your civic duty in November, and get a head start on researching for future elections. It’s our country, it’s our home, we all live here, we all have a say, and better yet we all deserve a say. Start giving a damn. I’ll see you at the polls.

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An American teenager documenting her life and the world around her one blog post at a time.

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