Opinion

Confessions Of a First Time Voter After The New York Primary

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I had been panicking about voting for the last month. From going back and forth checking and rechecking my voter registration status to reading up on both Hillary and Bernie’s presidential goals and policies and what they meant for me; I was nervous.  I had seen rallies and watched some flattering and unflattering interviews. My father had instilled the “If you’re black, you’re a democrat” theory into my  head but I wanted to ensure I was picking the candidate best for me. After two previous failed attempts at voting, I made sure that at 24 I had my shit together for my first time voting.

Yesterday, I woke up at 7am to a text that told me where my polling center was. After throwing on my classic Obama tee and black ripped jeans — an outfit I had been planning to wear on this day for months now— I made my way to Starbucks. Why? Simply because nothing screams adulting more than voting and expensive coffee.

I walked down the block to my local polling center— an elementary school that I’ve passed many times before. But today, it looked different. In fact, my entire Harlem neighborhood looked and felt different. I saw people wearing their “I Voted” stickers and smiling. I saw children in yellow tees that read ” I can’t vote, but you can” and people passing out Bernie pamphlets. It was beautiful. I had never seen my community come together in that way.

I stood outside of the entrance of the school as nervous as if it was my first day of class. I took my last sip of coffee, sighed and made my way inside. For some reason, the school reminded me of an episode of The Wire, that fourth season in the school system. Following the signs, I made my way to the polls and was immediately overwhelmed. There were so many people and so many polls. My facial expression must have said it all as a volunteer rushed to guide me.

She showed me to a table where two older women, who I frequently passed working in the community garden, kindly helped me step-by-step throughout the entire process. “I’m gonna give this to you, you fill it out over there, then you put it in the machine okay baby,” she said sweetly as she handed me an “I voted” sticker. I was getting babied during one of my first adult experiences, fuck it.

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I stared at my ballot for a while. Reminding myself of the candidates stances on certain topics before making the decision that was not just popular but best for me. Another volunteer guided me to the ballot box where I placed my vote. “You want another sticker, ma?” he asked. Did I? Of-fucking-course I did, but I held onto what little pride I had and said no then exited the building.

Somewhere between relieved and excited a smile crept across my face that lasted the rest of the morning. I had made it through one of the first major steps of adulting and it was… dare I say… simple?!

Later that day, I hopped on the train to Washington Sq Park to see if other millennials had the same feeling during their voting experience. It was a beautiful day and the park was filled with plenty of NYU students, Bernie supporters, and tourists. I asked a couple of kids I saw wearing Bernie shirts if I could ask them about their time voting. One student said “Oh, I didn’t do it yet. I just got the sticker.” While another in a Bernie shirt said, “I don’t feel like talking, but you can take my picture though,” as he did a before hair flip before posing.

Slightly disappointed, I kept hope alive until I was stopped by a couple more college students. Our conversation went as follows:

Her: “Did you vote?”

Me: “Yeah, I did. What’s up?”

Her: “Where do we vote around here?”

Me: “You have to vote in the neighborhood you’re registered in, love.”

Her and her friend: “Where do we register?”

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Where do you register? Where…do…you…register? “Where have you been?” was what I wanted to ask. I wasn’t angry or disappointed but more so concerned. I let them know that Facebook was telling New Yorker’s their local polling center before they brushed me off and carried on with their day. My afternoon carried on like that. Running into people decked out in their latest Bernie-endorsing fashions from Urban Outfitters who didn’t know a damn thing about his stances or the voting process period.

Was Bernie a trend?  Was he more popular with people who didn’t know a thing about him because his phrases were cooler? Was it because his shirts were more trendy than Hillary’s? The man even had two Snapchat geo-tags. If in a sea full of shitty candidates Bernie looked like the saving grace, then why the fuck wasn’t anyone voting? Shit, was pretending to care about voting more important than the act itself?

Before I made my way to Union Sq, I ran into one 18-year-old who just voted for the first time as well. We had a moment gushing over how adult we felt about making the first step of change. We spoke about if “our” generation actually cared about this election and voting in general before we got interrupted by anti-Hillary extremists.

After spending an entire day in different areas of the city, I realized that I hadn’t seen any Hillary merch or Hillary supporters. In fact, Union Square seemed to be an Anti-Hillary protest. People were referring to her as “Killary” and making claims of horrible things she’s done without any facts of course. I overheard one of the men protesting Hillary saying that he hasn’t voted in 20 years. By the time I heard one of them scream “The Blacks shouldn’t vote for Hillary, I think they’re at least smarter than that,” I was done.

My “first time voting ” high was gone. I made my way to the bar with a few friends for an open mic forgetting the events that took place earlier today. A few drinks and a few hours later, we left the bar. As we stood outside (documenting our tipsy-ness through Snapchat of course), I swiped looking for the perfect geo-tag to compliment our video. Then I stopped. One of the tags were the results of the New York Primary. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had won. It was as if time stopped as we stood on the corner mumbling curse words and worrying about our upcoming future.

All those Bernie rallies I saw my friends and their friends and so on and so forth snap chatting and tweeting about. All those shirts, buttons and stickers I saw in the park earlier today… For what? Where the fuck were they at the polls? From what I learned yesterday, seems as if politics is a trend for some people my age. It may seem cool to support who’s popular but a Tweet is not a vote. Facebook likes and supportive snaps mean nothing if you don’t go out and vote.

However, I don’t want to just blame it all on my generation. The government and the entire voting process is to blame as well. Not only are there many outdated laws that prevented many New Yorkers from voting yesterday, but the entire voting process has not caught up with the times. It’s a known fact that nowadays we practically have our phones glued to our hands. So why isn’t there a way to vote via phone or computer? After meeting the young girls who didn’t register in time to vote, I thought “Why can’t we register and vote in the same day?” Hell, why is it that we’re not automatically registered to vote but I can automatically be registered for Jury Duty?

The traditional way of voting is not as progressive as the times we’re in now. There needs to be a common ground where millennials are putting actions behind their supportive words and the voting process is more convenient.

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