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People Tell Us About The First Time They Voted

Your first time voting can be empowering, emotional, or exhilarating — and we all remember it.

1. Cookies & Coffee

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The first time I voted, I stood in line and started making small talk with the other voters. One of them ended up living in my building, so I even met a neighbor! Ultimately, I got into the main voting area, said hi to the volunteers, and got to fill out my ballot. I pulled out the sheet of paper where I had written down all the amendments I wanted to vote for. The voting process went smoothly and I made sure to thank the volunteers on the way out. As I exited there was a giant table full of cookies to thank us for voting. They were oatmeal raisin and delicious. Later I met my new neighbor/voting friend for coffee. It was a fun experience and I was very proud for accomplishing my civic duty.

— Donovan M.

2. If You Don't Vote, You Can't Complain

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The first time I voted, I voted absentee and by mail. In 2002, I was studying abroad in the Netherlands. I had paid very close attention to the 2000 election, thanks to my AP Government class. I hadn't been old enough to vote in it, though I desperately wanted to. Anyone who watched the very close 2000 election had a front-row seat to the concept of "every vote counts," so made sure I could vote by mail in 2002 before I left the country. When the election rolled around in November, all of my friends were disappointed by the outcome. I was surprised to learn that none of them voted or even had ballots mailed to the Netherlands. It was my first lesson in another election truism: If you don't vote, you can't complain. Or at least you shouldn't complain if you didn't even try to vote.

So here, in 2020, please remember that mail-in voting is a tried and tested method of making your voice heard. I've been doing it since 2002.

— Patrick B.

3. Caucus & Candidates

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I'm from Iowa, so my first time caucusing was super fun. Every politician HAD to come to Iowa, so I literally met every presidential candidate for the 2008 election. It was really cool seeing all these people I knew in my neighborhood come together in a tiny school auditorium and cast their votes in real time.

— Ashley B.

4. The First Black President

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The first time I voted was in the 2008 election. It was really special to me, as an African American, to participate in a historic election and to help elect the first Black president. I have always been politically active, even before I was old enough to vote. Voting means a lot to me as a Black woman because so many people have suffered and even died for my right to vote. I think people also need to remember that we have many other tools of political engagement at our disposal though. Voting is super important but we have to remember not to just show up every four years, but to show up every day. We must hold those in power accountable by participating in all kinds of civic engagement.

— Kemi A.

5. I Just Turned 18

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My 18th birthday fell a month before Election Day in 2008, so I was lucky enough to register to vote in this historic election that chose the nation's first Black president. Leading up to the election, I’d keep track of who would be coming through my Texas town to stump for both sides. I actually got to see a former president give an early morning campaign speech atop an F-150 truck next to a haystack at the local rodeo.

On Election Day, I remember rolling into the polling place with my cowboy boots on and being greeted by poll workers, clad in full Western wear, who looked at least a foot taller than me. And in that moment — as a 5-foot-1, first-generation, Filipino teen — I felt super powerful. Because despite how incredibly young and short I might have looked to everyone else at that polling station, my vote and voice mattered just as much as theirs.

— Andrea O.

6. I Had Come Here To Become An Adult

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I first voted in 2016. Throughout the journey to the polling station, I was deep in thought about the immensity of my civic duty. I had steeled myself before I went in, as though I were going over the metaphorical top by casting my vote for my country's future. Then I realized it was happening in my elementary school gym. I started recalling distant memories and thinking, This is where I lost the cup-stacking tournament and felt really sad, and, This is where I cried after getting out in my first game of dodgeball. It didn't help that the older poll workers tried to be encouraging by saying things like, "Is this your first time voting? Wow, congrats! You know who you're voting for? Ah, good for you!" I had come here to become an adult, and instead I was feeling more like a child than before. By the time I got into the booth, I started understanding how Hemingway's protagonists felt.

But in the privacy of the booth, with the options neatly arrayed on the machine, the significance of the vote at last became tangible. For how complex this democratic system is, at that moment it really came down to picking the people I entrusted the future to — with no input from anyone other than myself. I had never felt that much absolute agency in my life before. I realized that this is what adulthood entailed.

— Philip K.

7. I Finally Got A Say

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My first time voting was in 2004. Always in a hurry to grow up, I felt like, Finally, I can be an adult! There was a sense of finally getting a say in society instead of the rules being made for me. I was an equal. I remember the importance of voting was weighing on me then, but it feels much more important to me now. Nothing would stop me now. My roommate at the time chose not to vote and I lectured her — which in hindsight probably backfired! I just couldn't understand how someone could just shrug it off.

— Alison P.

8. Campus & Community Canvassing

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I first voted in 2008, making the cutoff for the general election by two weeks, having just turned 18. I was in my first year of college and spent weeks leading up to the election canvassing on campus as well as in the community. On top of that, I was collecting Obama shirts and had about six on hand that became a part of my regular wardrobe that I still wear to this day. Voting was incredibly important to me — I had an amazing AP government teacher in high school who made it very clear how important voting was while not instilling his own political beliefs. Unfortunately, that teacher died unexpectedly in 2012, but his impact was long lasting on me as well as many of my peers. I think about him every time an election comes around, especially at this time when voting is so important.

— Jenna B.

9. I Couldn't Wait To Vote

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I couldn't wait to vote. Growing up, my elementary school was a polling place and our cafeteria was transformed into a sea of red, white, and blue voting booths. I would excitedly wave at neighbors as they arrived to cast their vote; I even begged my parents to take me with them when they cast theirs. In 2000 I was super invested in the Bush/Gore election. I couldn't vote in it because I was too young, but I spent all of Election Night sitting at the computer in our family room refreshing the results constantly, watching in horror as the controversy unfolded. Despite all of that I was certain that things would go smoothly with Bush/Kerry. I was working my after school job that was only a block away from my polling place, so during a lull I raced over. My first-grade teacher was working the polls and handed me my ballot. I went behind the red, white, and blue curtains, cast my vote for Kerry, and sported my sticker back to work. After I got off work, I went back to my post at the computer, refreshing the results over and over, watching in disappointment.

— Eileen C.

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