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A Chance to Have Their Say – Finally

First-Time Voters Reflect on Presidential Election


Editor’s note: For 18-year-old high school students, Tuesday’s election was their first chance to cast a ballot for president. School News Network asked several students from Kent County-area public schools what their first vote for president meant to them, what they learned from it and whom they voted for.

Carson Hill and Brad Prenger, Kenowa Hills High School

Carson: “It’s pretty exciting. You go with your parents when you’re younger, and you just wait for that moment when you can do it. I feel it’s more exciting because of how controversial this election has been.”

Brad: “It’s kind of cool to have a say in what happens in the government. There’s countries all over the world who don’t have the same rights as us. People fight for the right to vote. We have that ability now.”

Carson: “We have our vote and our say in how it should be. But sometimes I feel the Electoral College process doesn’t give a lot of people what they want. I feel like it’s outdated.”

Both voted for Trump, Carson because of his business experience and Brad because he feels he speaks for the people and will be a good negotiator.

Brad: “It goes to show how our election system is kind of broke, seeing that Clinton won the popular vote and Trump won the Electoral vote. It feels good knowing who I voted for won. Now the media is erupting and it’s getting all out of hand.”

Katie Todd
Katie Todd

Katie Todd, Northview High School

“I feel really good about finally being able to take part in an election and being able to have a hand in my government. It’s just super cool.

“I’ve learned that every vote really does count. This is a government for the people, by the people and of the people. So if you don’t like the way things are, it’s time to take a stand.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about all the suffragettes who fought so hard for me to able to have this right. And how cool it is that I as a woman could vote for a woman in my first election. I teared up at the polls when I was filling in the circle for Hillary Clinton.”

However, she said on the day after the election, “I’m in shock. My emotions did a 180 from being extremely proud to be an American, to disappointment and just astonishment.”

Elise Kennedy

Elise Kennedy, Forest Hills Northern High School

Four years ago, Elise was watching Barack Obama’s campaign for president and realized she’d be able to vote in the next presidential election. “For me it’s very important to have a say,” she said. The election results weren’t what she wanted, but “you don’t have a basis to complain if you don’t share your voice through democracy.”

“To be honest, I am feeling like the Electoral College has done Hillary and the country a disservice in this election. Especially this particular year in Michigan, with the state going red, I felt that my vote did not matter as much. Essentially I see a flaw in system that prevents any candidate who wins the popular vote from being the president.

“I did vote for Hillary, and I am grateful I had the privilege to have my say in the next four years. In the end it is clear to see that getting out to vote does matter. Clearly Trump’s supporters saw that. It only goes to show that getting out the vote is the most crucial pillar to winning a presidency.”

Esteban Nunez
Esteban Nunez

Esteban Nunez, Godwin Heights High School

“To me it was something really important, especially in society today and the way things are going. I like to show my opinion along with understanding how it feels to be part of something and knowing something I say matters.

He said the electoral process was “kind of confusing at the beginning, but later on I caught on.

“I voted for Gary Johnson. Generally, I encourage the idea of moving forward instead of staying with what the Republicans and Democrats are doing.”

Maria Cotts

Maria Cotts, Byron Center High School

“I really liked it because I took a government class last year and I liked how I was able to vote this year. I liked that I could get involved and exercise my right to vote after learning about it for so long.”

Maria said she felt armed with knowledge about how voting works from her Advanced Placement government class. “I know lots about it, why it works, why it was put in place. I learned about the whole voting process and how it works at the polls.”

Still, it was a new experience. “I had never seen the ballot before,” she said.

“I voted for Hillary Clinton. … It should be interesting today,” she said the day after the election.

Mikayla Kruse
Mikayla Kruse

Mikayla Kruse, Rockford High School

“It was really important to me to vote, especially in this election because it was so controversial. I’m a woman so I don’t take that right to vote for granted. I know in history we haven’t always had that right.

“In my government class we spent a lot of time talking about the Electoral College, so we knew our popular vote wasn’t necessarily what would determine the election. It was nice we learned that, especially with Hillary winning the popular vote.

“I voted for Clinton. I believe she has the most experience and I could relate to her the most. Most of my views align with hers.”

Gregory Perhamus

Gregory Perhamus, East Kentwood High School

“For lack of better words it was really kind of cool. My mom always took me voting with her ever since I was little. … So now, for me to add a vote to this election and to be a part in the say and do my duty as a citizen was something I found very interesting. I felt really honored and proud to be part of the population.

“My mom teaches education at Grand Valley State University, so I was always in the know, so I don’t know if I learned anything new.” He said he took time to study the local elections. “I got more education on that perspective.

“I voted for Hillary, not totally in support of Hillary, but I guess against Trump. I think a lot of people did that. It was a rough election to have as a first election. When I look back at it in 20 years and someone asks who I voted for, I won’t be proud to say either one. I don’t know if anyone will, but it is what it is. We have four years. Hopefully next election we will have someone better.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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