Voting: The Adult Thing to Do First-time voter learned 'civic duty' as a poll worker

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Ready but Unable by Amber Solorio

By Ilyne Castellanos

The sun had not yet risen, but I had already joined a handful of other early risers to set up tables and organize binders in a small church in Prunedale, north of Salinas. I was wearing my favorite hoodie, which did not stave off the November chill that lingered in the morning Monterey fog.

As soon as the doors were opened, I was surprised to see a couple of equally cold people waiting to drop off their ballots before work. Red, white and blue partitions hid the faces of voters who would continue to arrive even as the sun set later that day. It was the 2018 midterm elections, and as a 17-year-old student poll worker, this was the first time I seriously started thinking about voting, and what it meant to be able to vote.

It was my senior year of high school, and at the time voting seemed like the most “adult” thing I could do. My father had just become a citizen and voted for the first time in 2016. Growing up in an immigrant household meant that voting seemed less a civic duty, and more a special privilege to be earned. My mother could vote, but she had to go through the same process of becoming a citizen before I was born. My dad would study for hours on end, and ask me to help him study for his citizenship test. I did not have an adult in my household who had an easy time being able to vote, so when my time came I assumed it would be a complicated task, like a class, or a judged performance I would have to overcome similarly to my parents.

"Growing up in an immigrant household meant that voting seemed less a civic duty, and more a special privilege to be earned."

As the only Spanish speaker at the polling place, I helped people who reminded me of my dad and others who reminded me of my friends and family. That day, I realized that the numbers and predictions on the news represented actual people. People with great ideas and big hopes for the future. These people did not need to prove themselves, they just needed a ballot, pen and polling place.

I am now a second-year college student and a first-time voter. My ballot lays on my at-home work station, waiting to be filled out. When I look at it, I think of the four exhausting years I had to wait to get here. I think about the people who can not vote for whatever reason — age, citizenship status, or inaccessibility.

For four years, I have wanted to vote, and now that we are here, I see that not everyone is as ready as I thought. I understand why; I have felt that way myself several times this year. It is simple to lose hope when the world throws obstacle after obstacle onto your path. People are losing their homes and jobs. People are losing their loved ones and their sense of safety in their own communities. For many, these problems existed long before the pandemic.

No law or person can change the damage done. Lives cannot be given back, and peace is hard to come by. Cynicism is easy to fall into, but in a country filled with such diversity, beauty and passion, it is a shame not to fight for better.

This November, I am going to show representatives that climate change is at the top of my mind. I am going to show my city that I want funds reallocated toward the wellbeing of young people and creative minds who have different visions for Salinas. I want to show through my vote that my friends with DACA and my undocumented loved ones deserve to be heard. There are so many important decisions to be made this election and in the next four years, which is why the tone needs to be set now.

I have control over who I will vote for, and I have control over the candidates I choose to endorse. I have the power of choice, a right that not everyone shares. There are many issues we are facing this election, the presidential election just happens to be the most talked about. I hear people complain about how their vote does not matter, but it does. A vote is a voice.

Maybe you will use your voice to defend yourself, maybe you will use it to protect someone else. Whatever happens at the end of this election cycle, things will be different.

I cannot say how these changes might affect us. I have no idea what is going to happen come Nov. 3. But l have faith in the warriors that live in this country. To those who cannot vote but encourage others to do so, to the people fighting obstacles in the way of their vote, to the people making sure your loved ones are ready for Nov. 3, I appreciate you. I appreciate everyone who takes extra steps to make the democratic process possible, especially now that time has seemed to become nonexistent.

There will never be a “normal” after this year because too much has been revealed. The truth is, we were never normal. The pandemic has highlighted serious problems in our systems and institutions. In looking at the bigger picture, however, we can see the directions we need to take.

This year, nothing has gone the way it was supposed to. In the next few weeks, let us vote and take back our country. Let us stand up and decide what we want the next four years to look like. This is the first of many big elections for me, and I am ready to make my voice heard.


  • Absentee ballots need to be requested by October 27th, and if your absentee ballot is returned by mail, it must be postmarked by November 3rd or returned in person on Nov. 3 by 8 p.m.
  • Remember, you can still register and vote conditionally on Nov. 3 at your polling place, county election office, or voting center.
  • Las boletas de voto ausente deben solicitarse antes del 27 de octubre. Si quiere devolver su boleta de voto ausente por correo, debe tener sello de correos con fecha  del 3 de noviembre, o se necesita devolver en persona el 3 de noviembre a las 8 p.m.
  • Recuerde, aún puede registrarse y votar condicionalmente el 3 de noviembre en su lugar de votación, oficina electoral del condado, o centro de votación.

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Ilyne Junuén Castellanos

About Ilyne Junuén Castellanos

Ilyne Junuén Castellanos is a graduate of Everett Alvarez High School in Salinas and is pursuing a double major in political science and Spanish at Hartnell College.