First-time student voters hit the polls for midterm elections

USC students are among a growing number of new voters across the country registering to vote early or through an absentee ballot. (Sinead Chang | Daily Trojan)

As a college campus, USC is home to many voters who are casting their ballots for the first time. Many students have already sent their absentee or early ballots in the mail and many more will go head the polls Tuesday.

“I think young people are really energized,” said Director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute for Politics Robert Shrum. “I think that to a large extent in our polling, in the USC Dornsife and L.A. Times poll, they disagree with [President] Donald Trump on the issues.”

An unprecedented surge in votes cast early or by mail has caused the total number of voters this year to exceed that of the 2014 midterm elections, according to CNN.

Krishan Patel, a freshman majoring in political science already sent his early ballot to his home city of Irvine, California. In California, residents get the option of voting at the polls on Election Day or sending in an early ballot as a convenient alternative.

Patel believes that of the important issues at stake in the elections this year, climate change should be at the forefront of the conversation.

“Due to corruption and a general denial of science, Republicans refuse to act on climate change by reducing CO2 emissions or implementing regulations,” Patel said. “Also due in part to the face that America is a gerontocracy, where older people are mostly in charge of Congress, I think it would help if Congress was a little younger … and if leadership was more environmentalist.”

Patel is excited to be a first time voter and believes the midterm elections are an important moment in political history. He said that if millennials and Generation Z do not vote, they fail to exercise their political power to the fullest extent.

“The government does not represent us,” Patel said. “This election is a referendum on the soul of the country, just as every election will be from now on.”

Aidan Banfield, a freshman majoring in political science from San Francisco, is a first-time voter who believes that the most important issue this year is electing people in Washington who can compromise and work with one another.

“I think it’s pretty ridiculous now how our government works, that you are tied down to … one entire set of beliefs just because of one party that you are a part of,” Banfield said. “I think that’s a big thing: finding people who are willing to work with anyone, not just the people who are motivated by working for their party.”

Banfield said that while he is excited to be a first time voter, the act itself is simple and just another part of one’s civic duty. He also expressed that the movement to register more young people to vote is perceived as a partisan movement.

“I think Trump kind of woke up a lot of young people,” Banfield said. “[But], I think moving forward, no matter if you are leaning left, right, middle, wherever, everyone should be encouraged to vote … And I think right now, ‘go out and vote’ is code for ‘go out and vote Democrat’ … But I think it should be a thing where everyone should be voting.”

Annie Nguyen, a freshman majoring in theatre from Minnesota is not old enough to vote, but she urges all eligible youth to go to the polls.

“People that choose not to vote [make] a very irresponsible decision,” Nguyen said. “If you have that privilege of deciding who is a leader in our country and decide not to use it, you are disregarding decades, if not centuries, of history and battle.”

Nguyen also said she encourages all of her friends to become politically involved.

“[The elections] affect everyone my age,” said Nguyen, 17. “It affects everyone older and younger than me, whether or not you are voting. Your life will be affected by the decisions that people make.”

Aaron Sha, a freshman majoring in biological sciences from Oregon, said he will not be voting in the midterm elections due to the inconvenience of out-of-state ballots.

“It is hard for me to acquire the means to vote,” Sha said. “I think that is a problem that plagues a lot of Americans. It is hard for people to access voting booths … A lot of people find it hard to vote and unfortunately I fell victim to that.”

Trojan Advocates for Political Progress President Alec Vandenberg said he hopes to communicate to students that that their votes matter.

“Something I think that [I] believe in is that politics is local.” Vandenberg said. “While we understand that it seems like we don’t really get a voice in these national conversations …  there’s so much on the ballot whether it’s the California state proposition or … city council. There’s so many races where our voices are magnified.”

Vandenberg has also helped lead VoteSC, a bipartisan initiative to encourage students to register to votes through online registration platform TurboVote. VoteSC registered nearly  2,000 student voters this year compared to the 411 student voters who were registered in 2016.

“There’s the voter education part, the voter registration part and, finally, the get out to vote part — knocking down those barriers and then letting students know that not only can so many of us vote but all of us should believe we have that right and have that privilege,” Vandenberg said.

Shrum added that young voters who might be inclined to believe that their votes do not matter are misled on the issue.

“Their vote does matter,” Shrum said. “Depending on which Congressional district they live in their vote can matter a lot in terms of who can control the Congress … I hate to say this, but when they say their vote doesn’t matter, they are wrong. I hope they don’t get into a situation where they regret that statement.”