Story by Makala Greene, Nick Surratt, Melanie Rodriguez and Terica Black / Contributing Writers
Cover photo by Joshua Blake / Contributing Photographer
Casting a ballot for the first time should be memorable. Luckily, the 2020 election cycle will be unforgettable. There’s great division in the country between political parties. This fall has followed a summer of protests unlike the nation has seen since the 1960s. Then there’s the pandemic which has affected every American in some way.
Young voters are expected to play an important role in the election of a president. They’re a motivated group, numbering in the millions across the country. Following is a sampling of voices from first-time voters across the state.
Halima Ibrahim, a student at Middle Tennessee State University, said:
“As a Muslim in America, it’s always been hard to live my life without feeling fear.”
She continued, “I go outside every day and feel fear looming behind me all the time. Even when I willed myself to be comfortable, I still felt its presence, in large part because of what happened on 9/11. I was only one year old when the attacks in New York and Washington D. C., occurred, but I am reminded of it every single day. It’s a reminder of the scrutiny and pain I dealt with for years due to this one catastrophe that I had no part of.”
Ibrahim said, “When I was 16 years old, Trump was elected as president. It was a complete shock to me. I was sitting in my living room with my siblings, staring at the polls and waiting for Hillary Clinton to win, but sadly that didn’t happen. It felt like all my hopes and dreams for the next four years disappeared. I remember staring at the results, a shocked expression on my face. I knew everything would change, but not for the better. I knew the next four years would be difficult for someone like me. Someone who wore a head covering every day, showing the world that she was Muslim. Someone who was also a woman and black.”
“I was correct. The last four years have been difficult for Muslims. There have been travel bans. People have taken to the streets in support of Black Lives Matter. Now we are in a pandemic, fearful of an enemy we cannot see and everyone, mostly everyone, is wearing a face covering, a mask, to stem the spread of the virus. I never thought my first-time voting experience would happen during a global pandemic, and I never thought I would be struggling this much to come to terms with the state of this country.
Many Americans are in fear of what’s to come,” she continued:
“The country is so divided, and this division is concerning.”
“I am one of those people who are scared. I am one of those people who would rather not have to be placed in a situation like this. A situation where I had to choose between two candidates that I would not normally support. One of these two men will have the job of unifying our diverse nation. I know for whom I shall vote. My hope for these next four years is for it to be better than the past four. I know I will still feel fear looming over my shoulders, but I hope that it doesn’t consume me,” Ibrahim ended.
First-time voter Jennifer Arnold, 19, of Mohawk, Tennessee is like a lot of first-time voters. She’s nervous and a little uneasy about the process, from deciding between candidates to working the voting machine.
“I am a little nervous about voting for the first time. I don’t want to make the wrong decisions,” she said. Arnold acknowledged that she might not feel this way if this election hasn’t been billed as a historic contest in American politics.
However, Arnold said her right to vote means that her voice and her opinions will be heard, so she’ll lose the nervousness before entering the polling booth.
Arnold said she never considered voting by mail, “I honestly don’t think there is a problem with standing in line to vote. It’s no different than standing in line to check out at a grocery store.”
Rawan Salman is a 21-year-old Muslim Arab woman who is a senior in college. She is a first-time voter who says voting is a way to decide her future.
She believes that you should choose the candidate whose policies most closely align with the changes you want to see come to fruition.
“You have to make sure that your vote is coming from a place of empathy and logic,” said Salman. No matter who you vote for, the candidate that is elected will be making policies that you will have to live with for the next four years, so it is important to vote for
the candidates you feel will do the most good.
For Salman, this means voting for candidates that support change in policies such as raising the minimum wage, criminal justice reform, expanding free college and environmental policies such as the Green New Deal, which are things she describes as essential to living and education. She also cited policies held by President Trump that she sees as harmful as to why she won’t be voting for him. These include his position on COVID-19 and taking away asylum for immigrants.
Salman feels that this election year both candidates have chosen to utilize fear over what may happen if the other wins, and this has led people to be less enthusiastic about the election and worrying more. She said she chooses to be optimistic that the candidate who is elected will rise to the occasion and make the changes that need to be made.
Christin James, a health administration major at MTSU from Dallas, is voting for the first time ever during the 2020 election.
“I was able to vote in the last election, but I didn’t because I didn’t feel like it mattered. But this year, I feel more educated and feel like America needs change,” he said.
James already voted in early voting and was taught about the election process through his friends and family. He took the matter seriously, keeping up with politics and presidential debates and also taking note of which candidate is vocal about social issues that he cares about.
For him, voting means being a good American.
“I feel like voting is a right people fought hard for so that our voices can be heard, and we should all take advantage of that and vote,” James said.
Although there is not a major issue leading James to vote, he believes that America needs to change for the better, and this election can create so much change for the nation.
“I have a lot of confidence that America will pick the right candidate because so much is at stake with this election. This could be a positive outcome, and I have faith in America to make the right choice,” said James.
Helena Cruz, 18, a biology major at MTSU from Shelbyville believes this is the perfect time to make a difference and let her voice be heard.
Cruz debated the merits of the candidates for some time before deciding on her choice, but she’s satisfied she chose wisely when she mailed in her vote.
For Cruz, voting means making a difference and wanting to be a part of a better future for America. She feels that it is important for everyone to vote because it is a constitutional right which for people had fought.
“With everything that has happened this year, I feel like I have to vote and be a part of the decision making that this country needs,” she said. Cruz decided on whom to vote for by doing research, studying politics, watching presidential debates, watching the news and studying how each candidate plans on running the country.
She learned how to vote through her mother who explained the whole process and even helped her register to vote.
“I’m voting for change, I’m voting for kids in cages, healthcare, my community, my family and for my human rights,” said Cruz.
There isn’t a specific issue that is leading Cruz to want to vote. “It is a pattern of seeing things and knowing more can be done,” she said.
Zara Baker, a nursing major at MTSU, hails from Owensboro, Kentucky. Baker, 23, was old enough to vote in the last election but didn’t because she didn’t care much for politics back then, however now she feels that it is her duty to be heard during this election.
Baker decided on her choices by following politics and finding the candidate that shared her beliefs and opinions. She was encouraged to vote this time by an older sister. In earlier elections, Baker tagged along with her at the voting polls.
“Voting means taking part in the nation’s decisions, and it is a part of independence. I feel like if I didn’t vote I wouldn’t be doing my job as a citizen,” Baker said.
Baker is voting for change; she feels America needs to change to be greater and move forward.
“I want a president that takes viruses seriously, I want a president that will strengthen workers’ rights, I want to be in control over my own body and I want a president that is professional and doesn’t degrade women or people of color,” Baker said.
She is optimistic this election has the potential to be positive for America. “My confidence that America will make the right choice in voting is high. I feel like more and more people are educating themselves and will make the right choice this election,” she added.
Tracie Renner, 22, of Bean Station, Tennessee is an excited first-time voter.
“I was old enough [to vote] last time but didn’t feel educated enough on the subject to vote,” Renner continued:
“I let registering just fall through the cracks.”
This time around Renner understands what a great privilege it is for her to cast a ballot. She wished everyone took advantage and understood how important their vote is.
“Being almost 23 years old, I realize that this country is my future and my children’s future,” Renner said. Given the divisive nature America finds itself in at the moment, she would feel extremely guilty if she didn’t vote, she said.
Given the pandemic, Renner expects there to be long lines when she votes because she has to wait until election day. “I expect masks and social distancing to be mandated,” she said.
Renner won’t let that deter her.
This is a vote on the principles of our country, she said. Pandemic or no pandemic, “it’s still really important for any voter to go to the polls.”
Rachael Foster, 22, is voting for the first time this year.
Foster, who works at a Nashville hotel, said she took the process seriously, studying the candidates and deciding who would create a better life for all Americans. She wants to see policies put into place that improve quality of life.
“At this point it seems like everyone is arguing with one another on things that should be commonplace,” she said
The kinds of improvements she would like to see is better treatment of immigrants, improvements to the wage gap and lower costs of living and healthcare
Foster said her vote means a chance to sway the outcome of the election and decide the future leadership. It is a civil right and gives you a way to have your voice considered.
“If you asked me this when I was younger I would’ve laughed at you and said something along the lines of ‘voting is stupid’ or ‘my vote doesn’t count’ but now I know the importance of a vote,” Foster said.
Jimmie Covington, 22, is a first-time voter from Memphis. He is a recent graduate of MTSU, majoring in broadcast journalism.
Four years ago, Covington didn’t vote because he couldn’t get home in time to cast a ballot. He said he’s learned an important lesson in using his votes as a way to be heard.
Covington said voting in 2020 was mandatory for him.
He said he voted early for Joe Biden and hoped he will see changes in the next four years.
The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis was a tipping point. Racial injustices are key issues to be addressed by the next administration raises, he said. He believes that Joe Biden, and especially his running mate Kamala Harris, will be perfect candidates to address these issues in the country.
Covington said he fears what is to come for Black Americans and believes the current administration has failed to make progress.
“I am a Black man so there is not a day that goes by that I don’t worry that this will be my last day on Earth,” he said, adding he voted because it was his right and duty.
Braxton Coleman, 21, is a senior journalism major at MTSU.
Coleman, a native of Nashville, said he wants to make a difference through activism, and he’s happy to be eligible to vote in the 2020 election.
He voted early for Joe Biden because he disagrees on numerous issues with President Trump, particularly his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his lack of understanding of race relations in the country. He worries that these issues will only create more division if change is not made.
“I don’t think the system is broken. I think it’s working exactly how it was made to work. So, the system works but it wasn’t made to work for or with Black Americans,” he said. He believes the issues underlying our country’s troubles are racism, division and a lack of leadership. He hopes his vote helps to bring change.
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