First-Time Voters Across the Country Share Why the 2020 Election Matters to Them
PEOPLE asked Americans of all ages to open up about was important to them when casting their first-ever ballots: These are their stories
Tyler Charoen, 37, Atlanta
Charoen moved to the U.S. from Thailand in 2000, and became a citizen in 2019.
"It took me 20 years to get to vote. I'm super excited because I feel like I have an ownership of this country, I now can play a part in determining the future of our country. That's number one. I think it's a responsibility as citizen to do that."
Terry Clifton, 62, Nashville, Tennessee
"I was prohibited due to my criminal record for over 60 years and once I got my record expunged on Friday — last Friday — and I restored my rights and they allowed me to vote for the first time in 62 years, I was excited. I know this was a serious election and wanted my vote to count."
Stedman Bailey, Margate, Florida
Bailey, a former NFL player, was shot in 2015.
"This is my first election that I'm choosing to vote in because at this point in my life, I realize that there's so much at stake for me personally. Just being able to elect different officials that share some of the same values that I do is super important to me and I just really believe in being the change that I want to see in the world and that kind of starts out by getting out to vote."
Both Bailey and fellow first-time voter Pearl Wise are part of the Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice's #HealTheVote campaign.
Silvia, Coral Springs, Florida
"Voting is a privilege and it's necessary to use it."
Shane Vliet, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania
"I am voting this year because, where we are it's a rural community and we rely a lot on the coal mine, and if Biden was to get elected the coal mines would more than likely be shut down and that would leave a lot of people in our area without a job."
Prashant Kakad, 38, Portland, Oregon
Kakad moved to the U.S. in 2003, but due to the process of immigration he was not eligible to be a citizen or vote in 2016.
"We seem to be losing a fundamental quality about being a decent human, to treat others with basic respect irrespective of their race, culture, ethnicity, the color of their skin or their political inclinations. Seeing the rhetoric of hatred and division rise continuously since Trump took office solidified my resolve to get my citizenship in time to vote. We feel more like a divided-states-of-America, so different from the country I came to, in 2003. We need a better federal office that unites, works together, keeps their ego out of the equation and prioritizes public health over partisan issues."
Pearl Wise, 56, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
"In 2018, my son Chad Merrill was murdered by a 24-year-old racist man. He went into the bar yelling racial slurs, and my son was standing behind his friend Jerell and put his hands on Jerell's back and told him to ignore the guy, he was drunk. He never said a word to the man. When my son went outside to go to his truck, the drunk had been escorted out but when my son went to go to his truck, he had not left the premises yet. When he had seen my son walk out the door, and his truck was in the process of leaving he stopped, backed up into the same parking spot, pulled forward to my son, said something to him; and when Chad stepped up to say something to him, he was shot right in the chest. My poor boy never had a chance. The man hit a car and sped off, went home, and went to sleep. Through all of this I'm raising my grandson who was 5 months old at the time, Layton. His mother, in January of 2020 overdosed. So now, poor Layton is left with no parents and I am raising him. Through all of this, in 2019 was invited to California for Crime Survivors Safety and Justice. I had never heard of them before; so automatically I looked them up, checked them out and me and my other son Richard agreed to go to California. It's hard to describe the feeling of when you walk into a room of 700 crime survivors … There are 60 million crime survivors around the world. We are trying to connect with each and every one of them. We are hoping to have 100,000 crime survivors to show up at the polls. We need to make it known."
Both Wise and fellow first-time voter Stedman Bailey are part of the Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice's #HealTheVote campaign.
Nouri Hassan, Brooklyn, New York
"I was really bummed I couldn't vote in the last election, Trump vs. Clinton. I had just missed the cutoff so I knew in the next election I'd be very ready and prepared to vote. Every issue under the sun is at stake right now. Issues for people I love, issues for people I care about, whether it's immigration reform, women's reproductive rights that are at stake. I'm so concerned for the future of this country because we are a leader and we impact everything around us. This is one of the most important elections in my lifetime."
Kennya Rivera, 24, Los Angeles
The 24-year-old Puerto Rico native moved to the U.S. mainland, but wasn't able to cast her vote in 2016 because of delays with government paperwork. In 2020, the she says she was determined to make sure her voice was heard, and that she studied up on everything included on the California ballot.
"It took me like a week and a half to fill out the whole ballot. I can't imagine the people who just have the right to vote in the U.S. and they don't want to go through all the trouble. The problem with this country is we only have these two options. I'm more of a person about morals. I know there's economic issues and health issues, but I need to have someone representing me that is a good person. I don't care if [Trump] poops gold. I just can't get over the fact that he disrespected my island, personally."
Ken Shutts, 76, Chagrin Falls, Ohio
"We need someone who can run this country right."
Kaitlyn Bradshaw, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
Why is Bradshaw voting for the first time? "Because this election is incredibly important."
Jasmine Rochon, Reading, Pennsylvania
"I just became a citizen in 2018, so I can have the right to vote for Donald Trump."
Jalen Peeples, 20, Hudson, Ohio
"This is the first chance I got. I'm really concerned about the whole COVID crisis going on. We have one candidate who seems to care and one candidate who seems to not care. It's really important to make a decision that is going to benefit everyone, especially in regards to COVID."
Courtney, 19, Coral Springs, Florida
"I'm finally 19 years old and wanted a change in office."
Blanca Hurtarte, 62, Atlanta
Hurtarte worked as a nurse in Guatemala for 20 years before moving to the U.S. with her family.
"It's good for the people who have citizenship because it's very important to [have] the Latin vote in this country. I have my two daughters and I have my grandson and me. I was the last to get my citizenship. One daughter got her citizenship two years ago, plus all my grandchildren were born in this country. I feel so great, I feel so happy."
Angela Roberson, Coconut Creek, Florida
An ex-felon who had to pay all her fines and fees before she was eligible to vote in Florida, Angela was able to register in 2019.
"Just because I was incarcerated doesn't mean I'm automatically going to go against Republicans."
Aiyanah Peeples, 18, Hudson, Ohio
"I turned 18 this year so this is the first time I've had the opportunity to vote and I'm very glad that I do get the opportunity to. I think as an American it's both a privilege and a responsibility to be able to vote. I've been looking forward to it, I'm one of those kids who looked forward to voting forever. There is a lot going on in this election so I'm glad I get to vote. There are a lot of issues and I know that if I can somehow contribute to changing things towards how I think think this country should maybe be shaped then yeah, I'll go out and vote"
Luther Rahaman, Reading, Pennsylvania
"Because [I] love this man [Donald Trump]. He is a man of action. He loves America. I was born in Bangladesh, but I am an American now, so I have to support someone who loves America. He has done everything for supporting our country."
Utsanee Putirungroj, 43, Cary, North Carolina
Putirungroj holds up her certificate of naturalization, which she received only a few hours earlier, while waiting in an early voting line.
"I appreciate the opportunity in this country to participate in voting which is why I made it a point to be naturalized before election day so I could do my part... If my country calls on me for anything I want to do my part as a citizen."
Andrew Colt, 19, Hutto, Texas
"I've never cared about politics before this presidency. There are a lot of issues at stake that I'm passionate about and I realize that people in my age group can have a huge influence on deciding the results of this election."
Tracy, New York City
"I didn't realize that when I was born here I wasn't given a social security number, and I have never really looked into it when I was living in South Africa because it didn't seem as relevant. As soon as I moved here I had to go through a massive process to prove my identity for every year I was out of the country, which was 46 years. So that was about a year-long process. I remember they said to me at the social security administration, 'Have you ever voted?' And I said no, clearly not, I have an American passport but [no] social security number. So as soon as I got my social security number I went and got a New York I.D. and I registered to vote straight away."