We spoke to five first-timers in states across the country about why this election matters to them.
With early voting winding down and election day still around the corner, Americans have already turned out in record numbers to cast ballots that will decide their nation's future.
And they've done so despite mounting barriers to voting access and while bearing the weight of collective traumas, from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to police violence against protestors and extreme weather events that have wreaked havoc on frontline communities.
"My anger factored into my decisions," Gwen, a 19-year-old voter from rural New York, admitted to Popdust.
Voter turnout is up this year because first-time voters are making voting plans, getting to the polls, and casting ballots in droves. Some have just become eligible to vote because of their age or as recently naturalized citizens, while others have never felt compelled to vote before but changed their minds this year. Popdust spoke to five first-timers in states across the country about why this election matters to them.
Note: These responses have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Gwen, 19, she/her, New York
Gwen waited in line for more than two hours to vote at this polling location in rural New York. She says that several people gave up waiting in line and left before voting.
"It is my first time voting this year because I wasn't quite old enough last year at election time. This election determines whether my disabled wife and I will have to flee the country. We live in a rural part of New York, and conservatives live in every other house on our street. Voting was tough because I recently moved and had to change my county, and polling was not accessible — the lines were painfully long, and there was barely any seating for the elderly and disabled."
Gwen says she relies on this close group of friends and is afraid she will have to move away from them if Trump is re-elected.
Justin, 18, he/him, Michigan
"I'm voting for the first time because I am 18 and my mom taught me that it is important to vote. I also think that Trump is not a decent or good person, and he doesn't get things done. He just argues and name-calls everyone. But, to be honest, I don't expect much change with the next president. I would like to see them address things that matter, but politicians aren't listening to what young adults want. They worry about money and fundraising and making promises to people that pay them. I can completely understand why some young people don't vote.
I registered to vote in person at the township clerk's office and filled out and returned my ballot the next day. It was easy, and I didn't have to wait in line. If I had to go stand in line on election day, I don't know if I would have done it. I can see how long lines discourage voters. I can order something online and have it delivered to my house, and I can deposit a check with an app on my phone — why does voting need to be difficult?"
Miguel, 36, he/him, Massachusetts
"While I'm 36 years old, I decided now to vote for the first time. I'm voting because I feel every single American should be heard. I used to think it didn't matter and that things would just be what they are, but I realized that one vote could lead to others voting. I truly don't understand how there are so many celebrations now, when so much has been lost — so many lives, so many values. We need wholesome change."
Catrina, 18, she/her, California
Catrina says that her family always talked about how important it is to vote.
"I have grown up in a family that has always openly talked about politics, which is very unlike most families in America. Part of those discussions were always about how important it is to vote and make sure that one's voice is heard. Ever since 2016, and probably even before that, I have felt an urgency around voting. I remember looking at the results in 2016 and thinking, 'how are all of these people not voting?' It is really hard to be a teenager, just a few years away from voting, and watch so many people not vote. I counted down the days until I turned 18 just so that I could finally vote! The second I got my ballot in the mail, I started to fill it out. I was so excited.
This is really the most important election in recent history. We are at a crossroads in our country, and we need to make sure that we make the right decision about who we want to represent our country as president. Not only is the presidential election important, but there are so many amazing women and people of color running for office who that will be amazing if they get elected."
Jake, 18, he/him, Florida
Jake says that he wants elected leaders to address police brutality.
"I had been planning on voting for a while, but given how important this election is, I definitely needed to. I think we need to elect leaders who are going to value life over the economy and property, whether it comes to police brutality, the environment, or COVID-19. Our current leadership always chooses against the well-being of the general population, and that needs to change."