‘It’s a responsibility’: Young first-time voters are determined to have their say

As Jacob Reyes waited for friends outside of the Hard Rock Stadium where the Miami Hurricanes were recently set to take on the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, the 18-year-old stopped to talk politics. Come the midterm elections in November, he will be a first-time voter. 

The 2016 presidential election set a record for first-time voter turnout with 14.3% of votes cast by first-time voters, which is equivalent to almost 20 million people. 

Midterm elections don’t draw as many voters as presidential contests, but in the country’s heated political environment many first-timers told the Caplin News they are heading to the polls to vote on the issues that matter most to them. 

“I’m against abortion,” says Reyes, a registered voter in North Carolina, where he is originally from, but who lives in South Florida for school. He is a student at Vous College, an online school accredited through Southeastern University in Lakeland. 

“As far as gun laws and that kind of stuff, I kind of lean more towards liberalist views,” he continues. “Also, with homosexuality and that kind of stuff, that’s not my  business so I’m not completely against that, either.” 

Another first-time voter, Martina Stopello, moved to the United States from Chile to live with her Venezuelan-American father and American stepmother earlier this year. Though she remains hyper-focused on Chilean politics, Stopello is also paying attention to the American political scene.

“I feel that it’s a responsibility,” says Stopello, 19, a student at Florida International University. “If I have an opinion, I might as well vote for someone that has my same point of view.” She switched to Spanish before adding, “I feel that it’s important to vote for someone that represents your values.” 

For Stopello, that’s protecting abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year overturning Roe v. Wade.

 “I feel like feminism in this country needs to keep developing and not taking steps back,” says Stopello, who declined to share her party affiliation. 

According to a Marist Poll last month, abortion is the top issue for voters in the midterm elections after inflation. Fifty-eight percent of Americans, regardless of party, say that striking down the Roe ruling makes them more likely to vote in the midterm elections. 

Ricardo Correa, a Democrat, didn’t get the chance to vote in Florida’s August primaries, but plans to to cast a ballot in the November general election, motivated by social issues he feels personally impacted by.

Correa is concerned about protections for the LGBTQ+ community. (Photo by Natalie La Roche / SFMN)

“There’s a bill to codify gay marriage and right now it’s on hold,” says Correa, 19, and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, referring to a Democratic-sponsored bill in the U.S. Senate that has yet to come to a vote and looks unlikely to pass this year. “It would impact me and my friends.”

Marlina Carbajal is an 18-year-old first generation American. Born and raised in South Florida, she currently lives in Golden Glades, near North Miami Beach. Her mom is from the Dominican Republic and her dad is from Argentina. 

Seeing how hard her father works in his art business is motivating Carbajal to vote based on Latinx inequality and minority issues. She says she wants to support people that will look out for her community. 

“Latinx should be treated the same way that white workers would be treated as,” she says. “My father works really hard and probably wouldn’t get paid as much as a white man.” Carbajal is a registered Democrat but doesn’t know which candidates she will be voting for yet. 

Charlotte Swinehart, 18, is a freshman at the University of Miami and registered as “no party affiliation,” but says she leans Democrat. 

Swinehart says she plans to vote in November for candidates who support abortion rights, oppose what critics call the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” and are agasint the transportation of migrants from one state to another. However, she is still unsure about which candidates she will support.

“All of the immigration stuff that just happened,” she says, referring to Gov. DeSantis’ flying of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, “is not something I want to keep happening.” 

For more stories on the election, check out the SFMN voter guide.

Managing Editor

Natalie is a senior double majoring in journalism and English. She interned at the Miami Herald and was an NBCU Academy fellow in Washington, D.C., where she reported on national issues that affect South Florida. Natalie has an interest in political reporting and gender issues.