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El Paso’s young voters explain why this year is different

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Historically, El Paso young adults have not turned up at the polls as much as older age groups. But this year, some of El Paso’s young voters say that’s going to change. 

In El Paso and throughout the state, massive youth voter mobilization efforts are underway, and early voting numbers suggest these grassroots operations are paying off. 

“Young people made Texas a battleground state,” said 24-year-old Charlie Bonner, communications director for Move Texas, a statewide voter engagement effort that targets young adults. “The youth vote in Texas really has a lot of momentum; between 2014 and 2018, the share of under 30 voters actually tripled and really put Texas in play.”

That increase in young voter registration is translating into increased turnout at the polls, where as of Oct. 26, the number of young adult (18-29) early voters so far in Texas is more than triple the number from the last presidential election in 2016. 

In El Paso, the number of early voters under age 30 already exceeds the number of such voters in the 2012 and 2016 elections, with five days of early voting remaining. Younger voters in El Paso historically vote later in the election cycle than older voters, including on Election Day. 

“This is one of the youngest and most diverse states in the country,” said Bonner, highlighting the problem of young voter turnout. “Our electorate, the folks that actually show up and vote, don’t necessarily reflect that rich diversity. If we can get the electorate to match the actual populus, which is what we’re really aiming to do in this election cycle, we can make substantial change.”

El Paso Matters spoke with several young voters in El Paso to hear from them about why they are voting in this year’s election, and what’s at stake. 

Grace Zhao, 18 years old, voted for the first time on Oct. 15

Grace Zhao, 18, stands at Canutillo Independent School District headquarters, where she voted for the first time. Zhao was reluctant to vote for either major presidential candidate, but is excited to have an impact on local issues such as climate change, the handling of the pandemic, and immigration. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Why are you voting in this election?

“To me it’s really important to be active, especially right now with COVID-19, with the Black Lives Matter movement, and with the president we have. It’s just really important to use our voices and be a part of the political process.” 

Who are you most excited to vote for this year?

“Definitely Veronica Carbajal for mayor. I wasn’t too excited to be voting in the presidential race, but seeing a candidate who is so passionate about helping the people in the city was very exciting. She was really the reason I was excited to vote.” 

El Paso has historically had low voter turnout among young voters. Do you think that will be the case this year?

“No, I think that’s changing. Especially looking at the numbers this year compared to previous elections. There’s been so much early voting already. I use social media, and seeing how vocal a lot of people my age are being about this election, I think that there’s going to be a high young voter turnout this year.” 

Richie Davis, 19 years old, voted for the first time on Oct. 20

Richie Davis, 19, voted for the first time this year. Davis believes that this election is one of the “most consequential” in recent history. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

How would you describe your attitude toward this election and the election process?

“This is the election where you have to pay attention to every single little ounce of information you get, whether it’s from the media, whether it’s from outside sources. This is the election where you must have information on all aspects, or else you could potentially mess up the way you want to see your America come November.”

What are the most important issues to you in this election?

“I’m big on economic and moral issues. So I want to see businesses grow and businesses thrive. But I also want to see the protection of life, I want to see the protection of unity among others. Despite me being a conservative, I do have some libertarian views. For instance, I do believe that there should be no discrimination toward the LGBTQ+ community.”

Who are you most excited to vote for this year?

I have voted for Donald Trump, and I’m very excited and confident that he will represent America the way it should be.

Are there any candidates that you are reluctantly voting for?

“When it comes to local (races), El Paso is not known for being a straightforward county, there’s a lot of corruption. And so I was very shaky voting for the mayoral office in this election. I voted for Oscar Leeser. … There’s a lot of dirt amongst all these candidates, so I would say that I was very shaky voting for any of them.”

Since we’re a Democrat-leaning county and young people tend toward the left, has it been difficult for you? Have you gotten a lot of flack from your friends for supporting Donald Trump?

“Yes I have. They were not open to my view. I respect all views. If someone likes Joe Biden or if someone likes Veronica Carbajal or Veronica Escobar, any left candidate, I will respect and I will listen, but despite that, I did not get a lot of listening from the other side.”

Sebastian Quiñones, 24 years old, voted for the first time in 2016

Sebastian Quiñones, 24, a graduate student at UTEP, believes that “more is at stake” in this year’s election. For Quiñones, the most important issues are the environment, prison and police reform, and helping low-income people thrive. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Can you tell me about your voting history? 

“I first started voting back in 2016, I would have been about 20. I started realizing the need for voting. The low turnout and lack of representation within my age group, so I figured it was something I should learn more about. And at the very least just casting my vote for one politician who I thought would be a good fit. (Beto O’Rourke) was really one of the candidates who kind of pushed me to, at the very least, go vote, if not just for the position he was running for. And become more engaged within the system itself.”

How would you describe your attitude toward this election?

“This election I’m very optimistic. I feel like a lot of my friends are also becoming much more engaged within the political process, I’m finding a lot more resources and a lot more ways to reach other people when it comes to this election as opposed to previous ones. And I feel that overall ripples in a pond effect. That will definitely help carry on more engagement within the future, and hopefully more engagement toward the ideals that I believe in.”

Are there any candidates that you are specifically voting against? 

“I don’t know if I necessarily count my mayor vote as specifically against Dee Margo, although I would consider the Joe Biden vote specifically against Donald Trump. If it was up to me, I was initially voting for Bernie Sanders as a Democratic nominee. Although that unfortunately didn’t pan out.”

Nat Huseby, 22 years old, voted for the first time in 2016

Nat Huseby, 22, an election judge in El Paso’s Precinct 14, believes that their most important role is to help eligible voters cast their ballots. Huseby has been politically active since age 14 and is a member of the environmental justice group Sunrise El Paso. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Why are you voting in this election? 

“I just think voting is the easiest thing you can do. You can campaign for a candidate and get someone who’s friendly to things we need in society. I think it’s really important that as much as possible, we’re making our political goals that we need to achieve possible by having better people in office.”

Are most of your friends going to vote?

“Pretty much everyone I know is voting. I can’t really think of anyone that wouldn’t be voting.”

Are you concerned about the outcome of this election? What are the stakes? 

“Yeah I’m concerned. Some of the stakes of this election are continued degradation of protections to human rights, continued degradation of our climate, continued climate catastrophe. There’s so much going on that needs drastic attention, and I feel like we can expect a civil war coming in the next five years. That’s what I think is at stake.”

El Paso has historically had low voter turnout among young voters. Do you think that will be the case this year?

“I’m really hoping it’s not. I’ve noticed there’s been a huge explosion of teenagers organizing, organizing themselves. So yeah I am really excited and hopeful for a huge youth turnout this election, and just in politics in general, beyond elections. I think it’s really because it’s so dire, people are realizing they need to be involved.”

Cover photo: Portrait of Sebastian Quiñones by Corrie Boudreaux, El Paso Matters.

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René Kladzyk

René Kladzyk is a musician and writer based in El Paso. She performs original music as Ziemba, and has written for publications including Teen Vogue, i-D, and The Creative Independent. Her new album came out on Sister Polygon Records in September 2020, and she is hopeful that we’ll be able to enjoy live music together IRL again soon enough.

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