What’s Driving San Diego’s First-Time Voters to the Polls
City Heights resident Lily Nong said she vividly remembers the presidential elections of 2016.
"Everyone was crying and fearing for our future," Nong said. "I felt so helpless." Nong was 15 at the time.
Now, the 18-year-old, who is a freshman at Columbia University, is empowered.
IVN San Diego spoke to a handful of residents who will vote in their first-ever presidential elections this November. Here are their stories.
‘I Finally Have the Power to Vote’
The results of the 2016 presidential elections sparked her drive into community activism, Nong said.
“Instead of standing idle to the atrocities under Trump’s administration and continuing to feel helpless, I delved into the realm of activism and social justices,” she said. “This strengthened my passion for working with community organizers and leaders who fought for gun control, immigrant rights, civil rights, and more for their entire lives.”
As a Vietnamese American woman, Nong said she hopes her vote will help uplift the minority community.
“Now that I finally have the power to vote, I feel more in control of my future,” she said. “I will use my voice and my vote to make sure that my community isn’t forgotten or brushed aside. Simultaneously, I will recognize the privileges that I have and use my voice and my vote to fight for the rights of other marginalized groups in the United States.”
'Money Shouldn't Be a Factor in Elections'
Andre Rychener said he’s biased when it comes to American politics because he tends to compare the government to his home country of Switzerland.
The local web developer, who became a citizen in June, said he’s concerned about the “division in the country.” Switzerland is home to five major political parties, he said, compared to the U.S. where Democrats and Republicans dominate elected offices.
“I like an inclusive and diverse system,” Rychener said. “I know here, in the U.S., there are more than just the Democratic and Republican parties, but I think most people just got used to the binary. I think money shouldn’t be a factor in elections but the candidates’ academic and moral qualifications should be central.”
Although he said he’s excited to vote in the U.S. for the first time, he said he’s unhappy with both presidential candidates.
“I’m not happy with any of the remaining candidates and now I feel pressured to play this ‘vote for the lesser evil’ game,” Rychener said.
Worries Paired with Disappointment
North Park resident Rahel Chewaka said she was excited to finally be able to vote in the presidential elections this year. But, the newly-turned 18-year-old said the excitement is now paired with disappointment and worries.
“Both options for president lack the qualities I would like to see in a president and rather display qualities that I am fully against,” Chewaka said. “I am most concerned about the voter depression that is spreading across the country — seeing as both options come up short there is a mindset of just choosing to not vote that is spreading.”
Although she’s disappointed by the lack of choices, Chewaka said she plans to vote for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. She’s also encouraging others to still vote.
Inspired by her own experience with racism, Chewaka said she’s listening to local Black leaders to determine how she will vote in other races and ballot measures.
“By learning about some of their ideas and researching them, I’m able to decide my standpoint on certain topics as well,” said Chewaka, who also plans to vote for San Diego mayoral candidate Todd Gloria.
‘Always a Bernie Guy’
Point Loma resident George Demerlier said he went from right-leaning, devout Catholic to a staunch, liberal Democrat and atheist. And, he’s excited to voice his opinion at the polls this November.
“I feel like, while this is my first time voting, it will be one of the most important elections of my life, as I believe that the future of this nation rests on the outcome of this election,” said Demerlier, who turned 18 last June.
Although he plans to vote for Biden, he said he was “always a Bernie guy” who supported the Vermont senator during the primaries.
Shaped by current events, Demerlier said he’s most concerned about the amount of misinformation online, prompting him to become more passionate about the elections.
“I have also been observing the rampant ignorance of facts and the tendency for people to flock to fake news or conspiracy Facebook groups, echo chambers of falsehoods like QAnon that pollute the minds of Americans with hate and ignorance,” he said. “This shaped my perception of how Americans are compared to other people around the globe, who have better education systems that teach people right from wrong more effectively than the U.S.”
“I hope that whoever wins the election makes steps to solve these problems,” Demerlier said.
‘Everyone is Struggling’
San Diego business owner Binh Tran said he has been a citizen since 1992, but felt compelled to vote for the first time this year. The newly-registered voter said the economy is his greatest concern.
“As the economy is being affected by the COVID, it worries me,” said the grocery wholesaler. “Everyone around me, my friends, loved ones and even my clients, are all struggling.”
Describing the country in “disarray,” Tran said the American people do not have “security.”
“I feel the need to vote in the upcoming election hoping that it will help the future of our community and the future of America,” he said.
'In Order to Educate Yourself, You Must Choose Unbiased News Sources'
UCSD student Natalie Calderon, who turned 18 just after the last presidential election, said she isn't taking the duty of voting lightly.
"I think it is my duty to educate myself and vote in a direction that is progressive and actively aware of the problems we are facing today," Calderon said. "Voting this time around is different because we are focusing less on party lines and more on the state of our nation, which is in shambles."
Calderon said her biggest concerns involve the spread of the coronavirus, especially as she works in her family's small restaurant. She said she has dealt with customers who refuse to wear a mask then insult her and other employees.
"The division created by this medical crisis has led to hateful acts that I just don't think would happen under other presidents who would take this more seriously," Calderon said. "It is so ridiculous to me that a virus has become a political marker between party lines. If we all do our part to fight this epidemiological war, then we will become a nation that's stronger, more compassionate, and more prepared for the next obstacle."
Although she feels connected to some Republican values, Calderon said she will be voting for Biden this November with the hopes that he will "reignite the faith in freedom of the press and have open conversations about the challenges we face as a nation, not as a party."
What is driving you to the polls this year? Tell us your thoughts in a commentary! Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.