Gen Z Voters on the Thrill and Confusion of Voting for the First Time

America’s youngest voters discuss changes they want to see in the voting process and the hope they gained in 2022

10 mins read

Gen Z showed up to the midterm elections in a big way, casting the decisive votes in razor-tight races for the House of Representatives and Senate. For many of these voters, it was their first time casting a ballot. 

Kidizenship spoke to teens about the steps they took to get registered and cast their ballot, whether in person or by mail. For some, the process was confusing; others were surprised by its simplicity.   

Illustration credit: Christine Kim

Brina Ratangee, Florida voter

Brina Ratangee, 19, said her first time voting this past November was confusing and ambiguous. 

After attending high school in Maryland, she changed her voter registration to Florida this fall because her parents moved. She chose to register to vote in Florida instead of Tennessee, where she is a sophomore at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, in an effort to “make her vote count more.” Nashville is part of Davidson County which was gerrymandered before the elections, splitting the city between three voting districts. 

Ratangee described how the voter registration process lacked clear communication, making her unsure of deadlines and requirements, as well as whether her voter registration was approved. She added that she was surprised she was not able to request a mail-in ballot online and stated that the website of her county — Polk County — was not up to date.

“I’m honestly not even sure if my ballot was received in time,” Ratangee said.

She was also surprised at the limited information available online about candidates, especially those running for judgeship.

“All I had to go off of was their party affiliation and one article that listed each judge’s stances on one specific county-level issue,” Ratangee said. 

Ratangee said that the ambiguity and complexity of the registration and voting process made casting her ballot feel like another item on her to-do list. Despite these challenges, she still felt as though her vote made a difference and that the voices of Gen Z voters were heard in the 2022 midterm elections. 

“I think we’ll see a shift as young people, who are becoming more and more passionate about issues affecting us and our communities, seek voting out as a solution—or at the very least, a step in the right direction,” Ratangee said. 

Sam Little, Wisconsin voter

As a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sam Little voted in person at one of the many polling locations in student unions on campus. Like Ratangee, he chose to register to vote in the same state as his school, Wisconsin, rather than his home state of New Mexico, due to Wisconsin being a swing state. 

“Wisconsin is a very mixed state when it comes to political standpoints, and there were national impacts in play depending on the Senate election at a time when our nation was making radical changes to female health protection and economically recovering from the pandemic,” Little said.

Little explained that it was easy for him to register to vote in Wisconsin even though it isn’t his home state due to the efforts of the university community.

“There were volunteers at the polling stations to ensure that students were properly registered with the state and had a plan to vote,” Little said.

Little says he was proud to exercise his civic responsibility of voting for the first time. Specifically, he mentioned that voting in Wisconsin’s 2022 election was important to him given the state’s gubernatorial and senate elections.

“Knowing that I am a freshman at a state school that’s government-funded and someone who will be spending the next four years in Wisconsin, I wanted my vote to count there as the legislation created over the next four years will affect me,” Little said.

In this spirit, Little said  that Gen Z will play a key role in politics in the coming years, despite older generations sometimes looking down on these voters. He says Gen Z will be the generation to make the progress they speak of, including those who are not old enough to vote. 

“This generation is showing up and voting for the people and laws they feel best serve our generation now and moving forward,” Little said. “The younger generation holds the capability to generate significant momentum behind the changes they want to see through their voice and use of social media.” 

Sophie Gross, Michigan voter

Sophie Gross, 19, was surprised when her first voting experience went quite smoothly. 

She saw in an on-campus organization’s group chat that the University of Michigan Museum of Art would be a voting site throughout October and November, along with information on Michigan’s history of long line’s on voting day.

“I just looked on their website when I could go, and I went and voted,” Gross said.

Gross grew up in Washington, D.C., but is registered to vote in Michigan where she is a sophomore at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. With D.C. so reliably blue, she decided to vote in elections that are more contentious, where she feels her voice makes a real difference. 

Gross identified the gubernatorial election and two specific ballot measures as major motivators for getting her and other UMich students out to the polls. The ballot measures would affect voting access and reproductive freedom, both topics that she described as highly important to young voters. 

She was surprised about the broad scope of the ballot beyond the more publicized races.

“I didn’t realize I was going to be voting on the school board or anything like that, so I didn’t walk in with any knowledge on those candidates, but I was able to just sit down and look it up on my phone,” Gross said.

Overall, she described her experience as encouraging. 

“It made me hopeful. I felt like my vote in Michigan really mattered and like I really got to have a say,” Gross said. “It made me more passionate about getting other people out to vote and more open to getting involved.”

Stephan Bellamy, Georgia voter

Unlike Gross, Stephan Bellamy faced challenges registering to vote in his home state of Georgia, causing him to be ineligible to vote in the 2022 elections. Bellamy attempted to request a mail-in ballot while at college, but information about the registration process and his absentee ballot was sent to his home address.

“The whole process is an area of confusion,” Bellamy said. “For young voters, especially if they are away from their home state, it can be an adjustment like keeping in mind where that information will be; I was out of the loop.”

He says that making information about the voting and registration process, as well as commonly asked questions, widely accessible would be helpful in ensuring people are able to vote. With that, Bellamy believes that it is also citizens’ responsibility to educate themselves about the process and candidates. 

“At the end of the day, it is our vote,” Bellamy said.

Bellamy explains that he is passionate about voting in Georgia even though the election outcomes of his area are predictable.

“I believe in what I want to see happen in Georgia,” Bellamy said. “I can see why people may feel discouraged, but we can’t just sit back.”

Rachael Perrotta

Rachael Perrotta is a sophomore at Vanderbilt and is majoring in cognitive studies and communication of science and technology. She is from Cranston, RI, is Editor-in-Chief of The Vanderbilt Hustler and conducts research on sexual assault at Vanderbilt. When she’s not editing, she’s probably trying to convince you that she’s over 5 feet tall, cheering on the Red Sox or wishing Nashville had a beach.

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