Ready But Unable Anxious youth shut out of the voting process

Ballot drop-off site | Photo by Joe Livernois

| YOUTH BEAT

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First-Time Voter by Ilyne Castellanos

By Amber Solorio

Four months can make all the difference. Turning 18 in February means I won’t be able to vote in one of the most important elections of my lifetime.

I almost made the cut-off, but unfortunately, I am 17 and 8 months.  During this election, I have been experiencing so many emotions as I help local leaders campaign or have those conversations with family about our presidential candidates.

It’s like I’m behind the two-way mirror in the investigation room. Seeing everything unravel, I feel voiceless, silenced, held back. This is how I feel as an involved, educated senior in high school who is unable to vote in a national election.

Some people might argue that teens are not interested in politics, or feel that voting won’t make a difference. But over the course of time, young people have become so educated because of the resources we have available to us now. Today’s youth are so informed, sometimes even more than adults. But every day we are underestimated. Many youth today are the ones to educate their families, friends and even strangers online.

I’ve been an active member of my community since middle school. As one of eight founders of the Soledad Youth Council, I’ve had the privilege to educate myself about local government. The Youth Council is a group of students that represent the voice of youth at both the Soledad School Board District and the City Council.

Last school year the Youth Council helped bring community members together to work on a park design initiative. We did outreach within our community by distributing flyers throughout the city, promoting on social media platforms, and attending numerous workshops at which we gave input.  The city of Soledad was granted a $7.6 million grant for our future park, with the help of the efforts made by the Youth Council.

As someone who has worked with my City Council for almost two years, I know why I am endorsing a mayoral candidate in the coming election. Unfortunately, not everyone has had the opportunity I’ve had, to see the City Council in action. Sometimes what’s said on paper isn’t accurate, candidates are not fact-checked, and there is so much misinformation in the community.

I feel blessed to have had insight from my local leaders, to have that hands-on experience others haven’t. But I’ve also learned that community involvement is crucial in order to select the correct candidate.

"I am saddened, knowing that youth are the future yet someone who is 50 years older will determine who will lead us these next four years."

I am very passionate about politics. I am extremely upset to see the way our national government is currently being run by our president, and this election I’ve advocated for change. And it frustrates me that I can’t fully participate in democracy.

Let’s say we were hiring at a fast-food restaurant and we get an applicant. The applicant has a full 26 incidents of “unwanted sexual contact” and 43 instances of inappropriate behavior on file. Nobody would consider this applicant, let alone hire this person. If we wouldn’t hire him at this fast-food chain, why would we elect this person to run our entire country?

We need a leader that believes in science, someone who is looking out for everyone and not just himself, someone who believes in racial/social injustice, and the list goes on. This isn’t about our country anymore, it’s about the entire world, our earth is dying, we have over 1 million COVID deaths.

I believe that on Nov. 3 we are either going to elect someone who is going to make our situation a whole lot better or a whole lot worse.

I do have some hope for the future generation. Proposition 18, on your ballot this election, will allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary and special elections if they will be 18 by the next general election.

If Prop. 18 is passed, others will have the chance I didn’t. I pre-registered to vote at 16, and there are more than 125,000 16- and 17-year-olds in California who are pre-registered. According to the California Secretary of State, as of September, 900 of those 16 and 17-year-olds were pre-registered in Santa Cruz County and 1,200 in Monterey County.

Although I know my voice and advocacy are powerful, the fact that I won’t be able to vote on Nov. 3 is heartbreaking. I am saddened, knowing that youth are the future yet someone who is 50 years older will determine who will lead us these next four years.

I’m really hoping that my community, our country, can make the right decision for this election. I hope that youth one day has the same privilege as others to vote.

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About Young Voices

Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported in 2019 by the Clare Giannini Fund.