June Yom hasn’t had a voice like this before.
That’s why the 18-year-old senior at North Mecklenburg High School, can’t wait to vote in her first election.
“I am actually very excited,” said Yom. “I like knowing that I have a little voice in what’s going on politically.”
Yom said she wants the next president to accurately represent the change in the world she wants to see.
“I want to be proud to say this is the president of the United States and this is who represents the American people,” Yom said. “And I feel Clinton would be the best candidate out of the two to do so.”
Young people like Yom, or adults ages 18-35 who are known as Millennials, stand to make a difference during this year’s presidential election.
For the first time, the number of voting-age U.S. citizens in the Millennial electorate has caught up to the Baby Boomer electorate, adults ages 52-70. Both groups comprise roughly 31 percent of the voting-eligible population, according to a Pew Research Center study released this spring.
In North Carolina, approximately 2.5 million people ages 18-40 were registered to vote as of Oct.18, according to the State Board of Elections. That’s 37 percent of the state’s approximate 6.8 million registered voters, according to information provided by the State Board of Elections.
The Millennial generation could help decide the election in a battleground state like North Carolina if they would just make the effort to get out and vote, said Susan Roberts, professor of political science at Davidson College.
But the big question is: will they vote? Traditionally, those making up the 18-35 age group have always voted the least of any voting block, Roberts said.
Roberts said young supporters for Republican Party nominee Donald Trump will most likely have the fervent passion to vote, but Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton might have more trouble awakening the enthusiasm of her supporters, or those formerly supporting presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
However the election turns out, local schools have worked to prepare their students for a lifetime of civic duty.
North Mecklenburg High School students have the opportunity to vote in a mock election, said Susan Hopkins, an English teacher who advises a student group promoting the “Rock the Vote” campaign.
The mock poll, done through smart phones and the Internet, also provides information on how students can register to vote in the real world, Hopkins said.
“A lot of students who were turning 18, or are 18, don’t realize how simple it is to register and practice what their rights are,” Hopkins said.
As part of this semester’s coursework, Mooresville High School teacher Terry Shinn will take a handful of eligible voters from his senior civics classes to the War Memorial Building in Mooresville the first week of November for students to cast their vote during the early voting period.
“I am trying to establish, or maybe instill is a better word, a habit of voting,” said Shinn. “Hopefully the fact that I make such a big deal about voting especially to the point of taking them to the polls and allowing them to miss a day in the classroom will bring that home. It also is an opportunity for them to see in action something that has been the main centerpiece of class so far this semester.”
Mooresville High School seniors Clark Farriss, Kelson Dowding, Maria Gonzalez, Alex Teeter and Bianca Perez, all 18, are voting for the first time this election through Shinn’s field trip.
During an interview held two weeks prior to their trip to the polls, all the students except Farriss, who was planning to vote for Trump, said they were still unsure who they would vote for in the presidential election.
Farriss acknowledged Trump was “very disrespectful” to women but said, “We all have those friends that are, like, really immature. I think we can all relate.”
“There’s a difference between your friends and your president,” Gonzalez responded. “There’s a very big difference.”
Gonzalez, who said she was Hispanic, said she was concerned with Trump’s immigration policy because she feared family members could be deported. “It’s my family’s safety,” she said.
Foreign diplomacy was an issue, as well.
“What is (Trump) going to do with leaders of other countries?” said Dowding. “Next thing we know we don’t have allies because he’s sat there and pushed them away because of what he’s said and how he feels about himself.”
But many of the students were equally as concerned about Clinton’s email scandal, WikiLeaks releases and reputation as being untrustworthy.
Teeter said he was swayed from voting for Clinton “because she lies” but then added, “I don’t know if I could vote for Trump because he’s kind of terrible too.”
Perez said she was leaning toward voting for Clinton “because she has the experience.”
The students’ futures and the nation’s economy also were important to the students – issues they wished the candidates would talk about more.
“Instead of talking about how bad this other candidate is, I wish they could just sit down and talk about what they want to do to help the country,” Dowding said.
Kate Stevens is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org