Local millennials head to the polls

First time voters head to the polls. Photo by Nebiat Melles.

First time voters head to the polls. Photo by Nebiat Melles.

Contra Costa County’s youngest voters are heading to the polls for the first time this year—and it’s a heady experience for some, but not all of them.

“I wasn’t super engaged before,” said Puja Dahal, 20, a former Contra Costa College student who recently graduated from UC Berkeley.

But Dahal credits a political science professor with sparking a new interest in politics. Now, she said, she has an “excited, yet nervous kind of feeling” about casting her first votes.

According to the Pew Research Center, millennial voters, those aged 18 to 35, will make up roughly 31 percent of the electorate this year. Despite comprising such a large part of the voting-eligible population, however, many may decide not to vote.

Millennial voter turnout reached all-time high in 2008, when almost 50 percent of eligible millennial voters cast their ballots. However the number fell by seven percent in the 2012 election, according to the Pew Center.

A survey conducted by the Contra Costa College student paper The Advocate in advance of the June primary showed that 61 percent of 350 people polled on campus, the majority of whom were students, had registered to vote.

For those who did not register, the most popular reason given was, “too busy.”

“The issue with youth involvement,” said Sydney Duckor, a 17-year-old student at El Cerrito High School who is also on the Richmond Youth Council, “is that a lot of people either don’t think that their voice will be heard, don’t think that it matters, or that they just think it will be too inconvenient to register.”

This year, some young voters say they are also frustrated by their voting options.

“I honestly do not like any of the candidates running for office,” Contra Costa College student Alexandra Rodriguez, 18, said via email. “I was and still am a Bernie Sanders supporter.”

Because she’s not a big fan of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Richmond resident Anure McGee, 18, a student at the Gateway to College Program at Contra Costa College, said, “this year I don’t feel like I have a choice, you know?”

But many of Richmond’s youngest voters are still paying attention to the local election.

For McGee, voting in local elections is even more important than the national election. “With the local elections you get to see the difference,” she said. “They affect you more.”

Jamileh Ebrahimi, Youth Organizing Director at RYSE, said the organization hosted a series of events this fall in hopes of getting young people excited about the election.

The organization held two candidate forums just for youth, one featuring city council candidates and the other, school board candidates. The organization is also hosting a mock vote for teens and young adults with hand-made ballots; results will be revealed at their election night party on Tuesday.

“We really want to encourage them of getting into the habit of voting,” she said. “It’s something you become accustomed to.”

That’s true: a 2003 study published in the American Journal of Political Science showed that voting in one election increased the probability of voting in the next. In fact, past voting behavior was a stronger predictor of future voting than age or education status.

But some millennial voters may not need studies to convince them of the importance of voting.

“Being able to vote is such a privilege,” said McGee.

Rodriguez agreed. Although she feels anxious about voting, she said, “we are the next generation and we have the power to make the changes we want in the community.”

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