Voting for Those Who Can’t: A New Citizen’s First Vote

During the summer of my junior year of high school, I had the privilege of becoming a U.S. citizen but was unaware of the rights, responsibilities and privileges of American citizenship. I was uninformed about voting. I was uneducated about the changes that needed to be made in my community. Worse still, I unaware that these changes were all connected to the ballot box. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I educated myself on the voting process and on the daily problems my community faced.

I turned 18 the year of the 2016 presidential election—and it was scary. This was the launch of a new chapter in my life: graduation was approaching, college was around the corner, and I was going to register to vote for the first time—but I was lost. I didn’t know what I was going to vote for, when the election was scheduled, where I should register or where I had to report to vote.

It was my family and friends—and their stories—that motivated me to push past any obstacles and not only vote but become a voter volunteer. Like many families, I have relatives and friends who are immigrants and have lived in the United States since they can remember. Some of them can’t enjoy the privilege of becoming a U.S. citizen, so they don’t have the right to vote. My life-long best friend, who is like a sister to me, is smart, hardworking, trustworthy and a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient. Throughout our years of friendship, I have seen how hard she and other Latino community members have struggled to make a change despite their voices not being heard—and because of it.

When I work as a voter volunteer in my community, I put myself in their shoes. I try to motivate and influence people to get out and vote. Many of them are in the same situation as I am and don’t recognize that they have the power to vote for those who can’t. For me, voting has become an important ritual that allows me to represent myself—and my community. There is so much power in “one vote.” One vote can tip the scales and bring the change you want to your community. One vote can carry the weight of the hopes and dreams of family members and best friends you love who cannot cast a ballot.

In my role as a voter volunteer, I was shocked by the number of citizens who told me they never voted. It motivated me to keep spreading the word. Helping these community members understand the voting process not only put a smile on my face but taught me that education is key. I am still learning and still teaching others. I will continue to fight for the changes my family, my best friend and my fellow community members need. There is nothing better than being aware of your surroundings and knowing the power of your election day vote to truly bring a change.