16 Young Women On Why They Voted For The First Time Today

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It’s go time! Election Day is finally here, and the country’s future rests on the shoulders of young people. This is the year when kids became fed up with legislators doing nothing about gun reform when their classmates are dying at school. So all year, groups like March for Our Lives have been registering high schoolers and college students to vote in droves.

Early voting spikes suggest that young people could vote in record numbers this year. For example, early and absentee voting by people aged 18 to 30 in Texas and Georgia has increased over 400% according to data collected by TargetSmart, a Democratic firm that tracks voting nationwide. Arizona and Florida saw the number of young people who voted early increase 131% and 217% from 2014, respectively.

Today, we’ll see whether all of that momentum and enthusiasm will make a difference and flip the House. For the young women ahead, it’s a no-brainer: They’re off to the polls for the first time ever to turn this country around, many of them registering as soon as they turned 18. Ahead, read about the issues firing up the new generation.

Estefania Hentschel, 19

Boca Raton, FL

“I attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, all four years from 2013 to 2017. At MSD, our teachers wouldn’t sugarcoat what was happening around the globe. We talked about the shootings and senseless acts of violence that took place in our own country in class, but naturally nobody ever had worries that the problem would present itself right at our doorstep. After Valentine’s Day, all of that changed.

“My biggest issue is the never-ending gun violence that has now become an epidemic. People are dying every single day. The fact that I recognized and have studied with victims from the Parkland shooting makes this extremely personal. I love my school. I now attend Florida Atlantic University. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m afraid someone is going to barge into one of my lecture halls and fire at anything that moves. This fear shouldn’t exist. In a perfect world, all military-style assault rifles would be banned from civilian use and restricted to what they were intended for: war.”

Photo: Courtesy of Estefania Hentschel.

Abby Wehrman, 18

Aurora, CO

“I’m from Aurora. I was out of town on July 20, 2012. That was the day a man walked into a movie theatre and murdered 12 people at the midnight premiere of the new Batman movie. My best friend was at a different movie theatre watching the same movie at the same time just 23 minutes away. I live 20 minutes away from Columbine High School, where two boys murdered 13 of their classmates on April 20, 1999. I would be born a year and a day later. I had someone ask me last week, after the shooting in Parkland, what it’s like going to high school now, when you have to worry about getting murdered at your desk all of the time? I didn’t know how to answer a question like that. How am I supposed to explain to this person that being worried about a school shooting has been something I’ve thought about every day since middle school?

“We need gun control now, and that’s that. You say it won’t work, and you’re lying. You say it’s a mental health issue, and you’re half right but you don’t even want to fix that either. We don’t have health care. We just have guns. You say that it’s a second amendment right, like it isn’t written in the same document that called Black slaves three-fifths of a person. You give excuse after excuse after excuse, and kids keep dying in their classrooms, at their desks. Kids are the ones who are fighting this fight, and we’re the ones who will win it, too.”

Photo: Courtesy of Abby Wehrman.

Corina Matos Aguilera, 18

Cary, NC

“I’ve moved around a lot throughout my life and I’m currently attending my ninth school. It feels morbid to say it, but I worry about a shooting happening at my school on a daily basis. Just this morning, the overhead announcements came on during first period and I was convinced it was going to be the terrifying and dreaded announcement to let us know we were on lockdown. Thankfully, they were just asking the varsity athletes to head over to the cafeteria, but my heart was pounding and my hands had started to sweat.

“We need legislative change. People need to stop being so stubborn about 2A. It is outdated and these people need to open their eyes and realize that too many people are dying from gun violence. It’s too easy to get guns. People pull the ‘protection’ card but you do NOT need an assault rifle with a high capacity magazine to ‘protect’ yourself. No civilian needs to be able to shoot that many rounds in such a short amount of time. It’s unnecessary for hunting, for protection, and for just living in our society in general.”

Theresa Nardone, 19

Poolesville, MD

“I am currently a rising sophomore at Duke University. I’m excited to vote this year and make my voice heard in my community. Although I go to school out-of-state I think it’s important to vote in my hometown. Our elected officials at all levels can work for change. I’m just so frustrated at the lack of action at the federal level and that’s why I wanted to get involved on a local campaign. Students can push their local and state leaders to work together to create common-sense gun control legislation. Our local leaders are the ones that can budget for additional school guidance counselors to identify mental health concerns in students.

“I was born and raised on an agriculture reserve in Montgomery County, Maryland. I am voting for David Blair for County Executive because he has a plan to fight for stricter gun laws in Annapolis. One of the laws that I want to change is the boyfriend loophole in gun laws. Young people in a relationship are subject to abuse simply because they aren’t legally married. In Maryland, people who have survived domestic violence from a spouse can seek protection, but someone who was simply dating cannot. Domestic abusers are barred from gun ownership in marriages and the fact that legislators refuse to protect young people by closing the boyfriend loophole is a blatant disregard of human life and of our nation’s future.”

Sydney Ovitt, 19

Pittsfield, MA

“I care about gun laws, women’s rights (sexual assault, abortion, equal pay), and the rights of immigrants. I was sexually assaulted in the fall and it made me feel like my body was stolen from me. It ruined me for a long time, I let it ruin me, but later I allowed it to empower me to make change and better myself. I’ve always cared about women’s issues, as a woman, but you never really know what it’s like until it happens to you. You feel so alone, until you realize how many people truly go through the same thing.”

Photo: Courtesy of Sydney Ovitt/@syd_ovitt.

Adriana Colom Cruz, 26

Hamilton County, TN

“I care most about issues regarding Puerto Rico and hurricane and debt relief efforts, gender equality, immigration, and Black Lives Matter. As a Puerto Rican who just currently became a resident of mainland U.S.A. (meaning I can finally vote now!), I feel like it’s my duty to vote and be as engaged as I can in order to represent other Puerto Rican voices that go unheard.”

Photo: Courtesy of Adriana Colom Cruz.

Beth Bryant, 18

Denton, TX

“I didn’t vote in the Texas primaries, even though I was old enough to. The main reason I wouldn’t have voted in this election was because I felt like my vote had little power. Texas has always been a red state and however much I hate it, and my parents have never been avid voters having a similar thought pattern to me. I have never been taught about how a vote could change anything, and so it was never a priority of mine to stay up to date on politics because it just made me feel helpless. I finally decided to vote after I realized that voting is the only say I have in what happens to my country, however small that power is. I participated in the National School Walkout this April. I’ve realized that I am tired of sitting on the sidelines as I bite my tongue about the issues that matter to me, and the main tangible way of change is changing Congress.”

Photo: Courtesy of Beth Bryant.

Abigail Brooke, 18

Frederick, MD

“I plan to vote for Marcia Morgan for Senate, and Summer Spring for Congress. I think it’s important to have progressive, forward-thinking women in our government, and I believe that both of these candidates will work towards making my state better.

“I attend Frederick Community College, and I do worry about shootings happening there. My school doesn’t educate students adequately enough to protect themselves in case of an emergency, and many of our classrooms are extremely susceptible to attack.”

Photo: Courtesy of Abigail Brooke.

Grace Oliver, 25

Little Rock, AR

“I’m a medical student in Arkansas. I have been registered to vote since I turned 18 but I haven’t voted in a non-presidential election before. Factors like the Santa Fe, Texas, shooting, the political attacks on Planned Parenthood, and the general political climate have all contributed to my desire to become more politically involved — not just in social media advocacy, but in physically getting myself and my friends into voting booths.

“Arkansas is pretty well-known for its loose gun control. Background checks seem to be something that everyone agrees on, and in many places there are already requirements for them, but they need to actually happen. We have enough advances in computer algorithms now that this shouldn’t be difficult to accomplish at minimal expense. There were several murders by firearm that have occurred in the past few years that were committed by people who obviously shouldn’t have been allowed to purchase a gun by anybody’s standards.”

Photo: Courtesy of Grace Oliver.

Hope-Marie Delgado, 18

San Antonio, TX

“I’m a member of March for Our Lives San Antonio. I care about equality and gun regulations the most. Gun violence is a big issue today, and it’s sad that we’re picking guns over our students. Being LGBTQ and Latinx, equality impacts me, and my old neighborhood was filled with gun violence, so these issues hit close to home. I would personally like to change the open-carry law here in Texas, and ban assault weapons, along with more security in our schools. I also want it to be difficult for someone to buy a gun.”

Photo: Courtesy of Hope-Marie Delgado.

Lahari Peruri, 18

Westhampton, NJ

“I am voting for the first time in the midterms because I care about gun safety and don’t want to be the next statistic. I hope to be a State of Representative for New Jersey when I’m older. The issues that matter to me most are gun control, funding for education, and being pro-choice. My high school had many threats over my four years there (I now attend Penn State University). I hope to see a time when shooter drills are no longer needed in schools, a time when shooting precaution videos are not viewed at elementary and middle school orientations. We need to run people out of office who are putting our lives at the bottom of their priority list and devaluing us.”

Photo: Courtesy of Lahari Peruri.

Kayla Austin, 19

Ventura, CA

“Immigration is something I’m very passionate about. No human should ever be considered illegal, no matter where they are. Especially being from Southern California, the immigrant population has a huge impact on our economy and everyone should be given the chance to make a better life for themselves. I personally know students who are undocumented and live in fear of being deported to a country they haven’t been to since they were 3 years old. I have also seen fathers deported and ripped away from their families. It’s unbelievably cruel and needs to be stopped.”

Photo: Courtesy of Kayla Austin.

Kelsey Wright, 18

Alexandria, VA

“I decided to vote this year because my parents have always taught me that it’s important. The issues I care about most on the local level are affordable housing and education. In state and federal elections, my biggest issues are the environment, Planned Parenthood funding and abortion rights, criminal justice reform, gun control, support of Palestinian rights, and social services like healthcare, social security, and affordable housing.

“My mom (founder of Together We Bake) works with women who have recently come out of the corrections system, so I know many people who have suffered unconstitutionally at the hands of the American criminal justice system, and that needs to change.”

Photo: Courtesy of Kelsey Wright.

Meg Smith, 18

Fort Lauderdale, FL

“I’m a registered Democrat, so likely, I will vote for Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate and Ted Deutch (who is part of the 22nd Florida congressional district) in the U.S. House of Representatives. Fort Lauderdale, where I live, is 45 minutes away from Parkland, Florida, where my cousins attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. February 14 changed my life and pushed my small, family-centered community to the center of the gun-control debate.

“It wasn’t until I had left school at around 3:30 when I noticed seven missed calls from my mom and dozens more from friends and family members. My heart dropped to my stomach. As I called my mom back, she informed me there was an active shooter situation at Stoneman Douglas. My cousin, Jessica, called my aunt while sobbing and describing the wounded people and gunshot noises she heard and saw across the field from her classroom window. My cousin Sean was hiding in his classroom. He didn’t answer his phone. I just shook and I banged my hands on the dashboard of my car, sobbing and asking God to please keep my friends and family safe. My story, the depression and the anxiety I’ve faced standing on the outskirts of these events, have not only changed my stance on gun control, but revolutionized my understanding of the urgency to bring about new policy change relating to it.”

Photo: Courtesy of Meg Smith.

Sophie Bailey, 18

Hillsboro, OR

“The issues that matter most to me when voting are access to education, women’s issues, gun control, and immigration. I am a feminist and support people who fight for women’s rights and their access to birth control and services like Planned Parenthood. I am active in walkouts and events revolving around these issues. As a student I’ve been empowered by the movement for gun control and was the leader of the walkout at my school. Voting for candidates who support the movement against gun violence helps them to get elected and change the laws that are making it so easy to buy a gun. Vote them out!”

Photo: Courtesy of Sophie Bailey.

Elaine Comerford, 19

Springfield, IL

“I am voting for Junius Rodriguez for U.S. House in Illinois’ 18th District. I care about gun control and women’s healthcare. I go to college now in St. Louis, but I am worried about my little sister who goes to a public high school in a small country town in Illinois where a majority of people own guns. I want better background checks and a longer waiting period before people are able to get guns.”

Photo: Courtesy of Elaine Comerford.

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