Americans voting for the first time are being showered with applause and cheers at polling stations to mark the moment in the best way possible, as the nation prepares for one of the most dramatic presidential elections in recent years.
Vee, a 20-year-old student from Santa Clarita is one of the millions of Gen Z'ers who were ineligible to vote in 2016. She said, when she got applause and cheers as she cast her ballot early, it was “empowering.”
“It was motivating and encouraging to hear people clap or cheer for something I felt was necessary to do as a citizen, especially in this election,” she told BuzzFeed News.
Along with her studies, Vee works two part-time jobs to support herself and said that voting in this election meant a lot to her because “our future is very dependent on the winner of this election.”
Mitchell Moravec from Raleigh, North Carolina, has been working as an election official at a polling station in what will be one of this election's more significant swing states.
The 25-year-old celebrated the various first-time voters he had seen come to cast their ballots, some with groups of friends or their families, and others who had come alone.
“One thing we like to watch is how they react when they are announced as a first-time voter to the polling place and we all clap for them,” said Moravec.
“Lots of them are sort of timid or embarrassed, but some are excited and kind of soak up the affirmation," he said. "Overall, I feel like young people and new voters of all types are really taking the task of voting seriously.”
Moravec said that the intention behind celebrating the moment and championing first-time voters is all about affirming their choice to participate in the political process, especially in the current climate.
“While we market voting as a free and equal right, it’s still hard. It takes a lot to come out and do the duty, especially with all the doom-and-gloom news stories and coverage of the election and the pandemic,” he said. “I think it’s important to affirm first-time voters that they are doing the right thing and that voting is something they should prioritize in every election.”
For Briana Sanchez, casting her vote for the first time meant more than just fulfilling a civil obligation. The 20-year-old who lives in Texas is one of the millions of Americans who became unemployed as a result of the pandemic. As well as the economic challenges, Sanchez shared she felt that voting was necessary because of her identity.
“It means a lot to me, being Mexican and part of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s important for me to vote for someone who is for those two groups and not against them,” she said. “I remember not being able to vote for the last election due to me being too young and hearing that Donald Trump won was scary. I don’t want anyone who is younger than me to feel that since they couldn’t vote in this election.”
The ovation she received at her polling station was something “totally unexpected,” said Sanchez.
“I always thought when you go to vote, you’re about to enter a very serious space and no noise is to be made. So when I was asked by this very kind lady if I was a first-time voter and she shouted ‘We have a first-time voter!’ to the entire room and everyone stopped what they were doing to cheer, it was great.”
Myron Curtis, a US history teacher living in Virginia, may not have received an ovation as he cast his ballot for the first time. But for the 35-year-old, who had not voted in the previous four elections, the moment he shared with his daughter was a celebration of its own.
“With everything that's at stake I just can't look my 7-year-old daughter in the eye and say I did everything in my power to try to fight for a better future for her if I sat this one out,” shared Curtis.
On his first experience at a polling station, Curtis acknowledged that he saw several younger voters receive their moment of applause. Due to his age, he imagined that officials assumed he would have voted at some point in his adulthood, a fact that he felt somewhat embarrassed about.
“I brought my daughter with me and she was like ‘daddy you should tell them ur a first time voter so they clap for u too,’” he said. “I hushed her and told her I was a bit embarrassed at being in my 30s and voting for the first time.”
Curtis shared that, in the past, he had been frustrated by the “increasingly partisan” nature of US politics and admitted that he still held some of these feelings today. However, for this year’s election, the father found inspiration in his daughter and the contributions of great African Americans who paved the way for his chance to vote.
“I was extremely excited, not only going through that process for the first time but also having one of my most favorite people in the world, my daughter, there with me,” he said. “It probably sounds corny, but as a history teacher, I got pretty emotional as I started thinking of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, Frederick Douglass, John Lewis, and others like him that fought so hard for me to be able to have a voice in our democracy and all the years I sat around putting down the system instead of doing my part to bring about change through the system.”