In less than two weeks, on November 3rd, the 2020 presidential election will take place. While many elections are touted the most important ever, this one is occurring in unprecedented times: a world pandemic leaving destruction in its path and a massive loss of life, high unemployment and poverty rates, and a system of racial injustice boiling over into the streets.
While younger generations have not always played a significant factor in past elections, youth are expected to have a bigger role in 2020. Generation Z, those born in the late 1990s to early 2010s, have come of age at a time in which many are taking to the streets to advocate for what they believe in. Now they can march their ways to the polls as well.
Like many other young adults, 18-year-old Arely Valencia will vote for the first time next month. A freshman at UC Berkeley, Valencia is returning from her campus dorm to her Boyle Heights home to vote with friends and family.
“I want my voice out there because it’s really important to elect officials who respect our education, our bodies, our minds, and our environment,” Valencia says.
“Everyone who is 18-years old and eligible, should get out and vote.”Arely Valencia
In a national poll by the Harvard Public Opinion Project in September, 63 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 years old said they’d definitely be voting this year, compared to the 47 percent four years ago. The poll also found that issues engaging youth are changing. In addition to healthcare, education, and mental health issues; the economy and the pandemic have moved to the forefront.
As a Legal Studies and Political Science major, with her eye on the future of being a lawyer, Valencia thinks it’s important for first-time voters to educate themselves beyond the presidential race – on candidates up for election in local governments, and on ballot propositions in every election cycle.
“It’s extremely important to vote given our environment and climate change, and especially because of the pandemic, ” she says. “We need people in office that understand the scientific reasonings and information on how to protect our environment as well as preventing the spread of COVID-19.”
Valencia realizes it will be different for new voters this year because their first experience will be under unusual circumstances. This election cycle also marks the first time Latinos will be the largest non-white group among eligible voters. The Pew Research Center estimates that this year Latinos make up 13.3 percent of eligible voters – a whopping 32.million voters.
Valencia says she’s troubled by recent political developments, such as the healthcare of millions of people, including young people, being at risk in the middle of a pandemic and, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, the possibility that the Supreme Court will hear two cases from the Trump administration regarding the U.S-Mexico border that include policies about asylum seekers and the border wall.
She says she understands the importance of this election for her future.
“I want to share my voice for women’s rights because I strongly believe that all women should be in charge of the decisions when it comes to their bodies, not people in power who want to take away funding from places with accessible resources like Planned Parenthood,” she says, adding that she’s inspired by political figures like the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
A common theme in this election, she believes, is the privilege many have by being able to vote and how important it is to use that privilege.
“Everyone who is 18-years old and eligible, should get out and vote,” she says.