What It's Like to Vote For the First Time in This Election
When it came time for me to fill out my absentee ballot for the election, I thought about the contrast between how I’d imagined this moment when I was growing up and its reality. I come from a liberal state and grew up with friends and family who almost universally identified as Democrat. I realized very early on how growing up in this kind of political environment limited my own political ideas. It’s not that I don’t identify as a Democrat. I do! But I've never felt fully secure that this identification was my own choice and not just the product of my upbringing. I’ve looked forward to voting in my first election for a long time because I imagined it would inspire me to think through different political perspectives and make my decision with the sense of autonomy I’d been lacking.
Like basically everyone else on the planet, I didn’t expect that the 2016 election would devolve like it has. When deciding whom to vote for, I didn’t have to make that carefully weighed decision I was anticipating because, for me, the answer was clear from the get-go. When I filled out the bubble next to Hillary Clinton’s name, I felt like I wasn’t voting for Clinton as much as I was voting for not-Trump.
I genuinely wish that I could say my decision was based on something more substantive, like Clinton’s economic policy or stance on police reform, but it’s hard to base a decision on policy in an election where policy seems to matter so little. This election seems to be more about personality and which candidate can withstand the most scandals. As Obama said in his speech at the DNC, Clinton is undoubtedly qualified. And while she’s been beaten up heavily in the press for faults like her e-mails and allegiance to Wall Street, I question whether it’s even possible for someone to be a high-profile figure in politics for so long without making mistakes or controversial decisions.
Either way, I would take Hillary Clinton, flawed as she may be, over Trump, whose campaign lacked not only substance, but also a sense of decency that prevented me from taking anything he said seriously. Part of the strangeness about this election is while there are people like me from both parties whose choice was clear, there are also many people who are stuck between the two major candidates or are relying on third party options. I recently talked to one of my few conservative friends who explained that although she hated Trump, she could never see herself making the ideological leap to vote for Clinton.
Nevertheless, this election has inspired me to question a lot of fundamental elements of American politics and the hypocritical ways the public processes elections. For instance, Trump supporters criticize Hillary Clinton for being untrustworthy, but then when asked about Trump’s more ridiculous claims (cough, building a wall, cough) they deflect by saying that he doesn’t really mean what he says. There are times when the double standard is even starker and more blatantly sexist. We’ve all heard the mind-numbing argument that women are too emotional to be president, but when Hillary Clinton displays stoicism and level-headedness, she’s called an unemotional robot. Even worse: Her male opponent can literally get into Twitter wars at 3 A.M. and still be considered by some as someone emotionally qualified to lead.
I’ll be honest when I say that I’m not sure how I will handle watching the results pour in on election night. For months I’ve walked around, unable to process the concept of a Trump presidency, which the results might force me to confront. Depending on who we choose, I think most people can agree that the results of this election will set a precedent for the rest of our country’s future. We’ve come so far in the past eight years, that all I can hope is that we can continue this trend in the years to come.
By Sophie Hayssen, 20