First-time voters flock to polls, hope to make a difference

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Agnes Jasinski

A steady stream of a mostly college-aged crowd flowed in and out of Skelton Place, a polling center at 302 S. Second St. in Champaign, Tuesday afternoon. A majority of the students seemed hesitant, wandering from table to table with their identification and utility bills in hand. They were first-time voters.

“I thought it’d take more time. I would definitely vote again now that I know,” Christina Estrada, senior in LAS, said of her first experience at the polls.

Despite reports of long lines and vote challengers across the United States, students who arrived at the polls early met short lines and several available election judges waiting to answer questions. Of the possible 125 million registered to vote nationwide, a recent Gallup Poll found that 12 percent were first-time voters.

Ed Voss, an election judge from Champaign working at Skelton Place, said judges can usually tell the newcomers from the veterans.

“The seasoned voter will start filling out the cards as soon as they get in here,” Voss said. “New voters also have higher registration numbers (on their cards). The lower the number, the longer they’ve been registered in this county.”

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Estrada was intimidated to vote at first, and didn’t feel prepared enough to vote in the last election.

“I didn’t take the time and put forth the effort to learn about all the candidates,” she said. “I had the opportunity and should’ve taken it. Since I’m living in this country, I should vote. As you get older, you realize how much it can affect you.”

Students at the polls recalled the close election in 2000 as a big reason why they wanted to vote for the first time in this year’s similarly close race.

“I was really angry (in 2000),” said Kayla Williams, junior in education. “We’re supposed to live in this wonderfully democratic society where all other nations look up to us … I felt like this was a very important election.”

Williams tried to get the word out about voting on campus by encouraging all of her friends to register and vote. As a first time voter, she said she didn’t see why students wouldn’t take the time out to head to the polls when registration and voting has become so easy for college students.

“Students say they can’t make a difference and that one opinion doesn’t count,” she said. “Forget about it. Make time.”

Williams registered at the Department of Motor Vehicles so she wouldn’t have to make the drive up to Chicago when it came time to vote. Estrada signed up at the Undergraduate Library, a convenient location for her because she said she’s there all the time. Adam Groth, senior in FAA, registered at “Rock to Register,” a voter awareness event at the Courtyard Cafe in the Illini Union. He said it’s “hogwash” when college students either fail to register, or skip out on the polls on Election Day.

“If you really care about it, you can take the 10 minutes to vote,” he said. “We’re the voice of this generation.”

Few students at Skelton Place were asked to show their pieces of mail to verify proof of address if they were listed in the books of registered voters. Most were told they were “ready to vote” by the election judges present, given their punch card ballots and pointed toward a booth. Although several students said they were not as confident as they’d like to be with such a tight race ahead, they left happy they voted, with their “I Voted” stickers prominently displayed.