Historically, youth voter turnout is low. But young people are more engaged than ever before. Voter registration numbers among California college students tripled this election season compared to all of 2016, according to the state. KAZU spoke with young voters in our community who are making their mark this election.
Amelia Parker, 20, is a third-year student at California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB). She’s an HCOM major, humanities and communication. She’s double concentrating in journalism and mass media, and ethnic and gender studies. Her minor is environmental health policy.
For now, Parker is studying from home in Humboldt County. Her bedroom walls are covered in colorful, activism posters, including one from the ACLU that reads, “The Future Is Ours To Build.”
Amid her busy schedule, Parker works for CSUMB’s Otter Cross Cultural Center.
“We call it the OC3,” said Parker. “Our main focus is social justice. So we provide events, resources and dialogues on social justice topics.”
She led the first virtual dialogue of the semester. It was called “Election 2020, Call To Action When Democracy is at Risk” and focused on voter suppression and political apathy.
Parker said even though there’s a lot of focus on the presidential race, paying attention to local and statewide issues matters.
“We have a lot of propositions and a lot of them are really important and would change a lot of lives if they were passed or not passed,” she said.
Parker voted early this election, her first presidential election. She and her dad dropped off their ballots in the beginning of October.
For Mercedes Cazares, 18, her niece and nephew motivate her to vote.
“They push me to vote because I want them to live a good life,” Cazares said. “I want them to live a life that I have never lived. So somewhere where there's less gang violence, shootings, drugs, incarceration.”
Cazares is a student in The Drummond Culinary Academy at Rancho Cielo, a learning and social services center in the hills of Salinas for underserved youth. The nonprofit provides education, job training and counseling. It also provides transitional housing for some students, including Cazares.
“So I am on probation. I just learned not that long ago that you can be on probation and vote,” Cazares said. “I feel blessed I can actually do that and to be a part of something bigger than myself is really amazing.”
Her message to young people this election -- vote for the people who can’t.
“We're choosing who we want to represent us,” said Cazares. “And we want the best for us, for our kids, for our future kids. We want the best for them.”
Students at Rancho Cielo learn the ins and outs of voting. Stacie Simmons, the transitional housing program director, holds workshops on everything from registration to researching candidates and local measures.
“So we actually had Monterey County Elections come in, well come in via Zoom these days, which I was a little worried about... engaging these youth and what that was going to look like via Zoom,” Simmons said.
But they were super into it, she said, because this is the first time a lot of their youth are able to vote.
“It really gets me excited because it feels like you're part of this community of change,” said Simons. “It's very inspirational to see younger people wanting to learn this information.”
Simmons describes this election as “personal.”
“It feels very much so like your vote matters more than ever,” she said. “ And I think that's exactly what the students are seeing, you know, with all the movements that are going on in our culture right now and the discrimination were seeing brought to light.”
Simmons plans to take the students out on November 3. Some want the experience of voting at the polls. Others will drop off their mail-in ballots. Then, they’re going out to lunch to celebrate and talk about what voting meant to everyone.
Jonah Vazquez, 19, who went to Rancho Cielo and is now a student at Hartnell College in Salinas, was recently helping people register to vote with the Monterey County Black and Brown Solidarity Coalition.
For Vazquez, turning 18 was something he’s looked forward to.
“I wanted to be 18, not just be 18 and, you know, I'm an adult now. I wanted to be 18 so I can vote,” he said.
Vazquez wants to become a constitutional lawyer. His passion for politics comes from his family.
“My grandmother, we'd have conversations until 3 a.m. talking about things that needed to be done in this country to fix things,” said Vazquez.
Vazquez voted in the primary, but this is his first presidential election. He said voting in a pandemic doesn’t take away any of the excitement for him.
“And actually, it amplifies it,” Vazquez said. “I’m not giving up on voting. I’m still going to put my vote in because I believe we need change in this country.”
Kyron Loggins, 18, who voted for the first time, said it felt empowering.
“Voting really is exercising your power and it's stepping into your power,” said Loggins.
Loggins is a student at San Jose State University and a member of Youth Alliance in San Benito County. The nonprofit works to empower youth as leaders to better their communities. Loggins runs their podcast, which is based on current events that are relevant to young people, like the impact of COVID-19 on higher education.
“This to me, as far as I'm witnessing, is the election of the highest stakes in my lifetime,” Loggins said. “It definitely does feel like it’s all or nothing, like this is the big one.”
He believes political apathy is starting to fade away in his generation.
“So I think that definitely younger people are becoming a lot more aware of the power that they hold in this society,” said Loggins. “We're realizing that if we're not gonna use our power, someone else will.”
KAZU is licensed to California State University Monterey Bay.