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Karina Shumate, 21, a college student studying stenography, fills out a voter registration form in Richardson, Texas, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Karina Shumate, 21, a college student studying stenography, fills out a voter registration form in Richardson, Texas, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

How do young first-time voters feel about the 2020 election?

Two college students from the Philadelphia area share their thoughts about what is on the ballot in this presidential election.

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When Americans think about swing voters, they tend to imagine middle-aged people from the Midwest who cannot decide what party to vote for. Recent elections indicate that the true swing voters in 2020 will be voters between18 and 29 years old. 

This is not because they have not made up their minds on choosing between former vice president Joe Biden and incumbent Donald Trump, but because they do not know whether to vote for the Democratic party’s ticket or not vote at all. 

Voters under 30 famously rejected Hillary Clinton in 2016, as she received 5% less support nationally than former president Barack Obama did in 2012. In Pennsylvania, a state Trump narrowly won, her victory margin with the bloc was 19 points down from the previous presidential election.  

The former first lady gave off a moderate and establishment tone. It was not as appealing to them as the policies of progressive Senator Bernie Sanders, whose presidential campaigns inspired thousands of young people to participate in the primary process in record numbers. 

This year, young members of the American electorate are hoping to change the narrative of previous general elections by making their voices heard like never before. 

Young voters of color in the urban areas of key battleground states, like Pennsylvania, will be especially looked upon to turnout and voice their concerns. 

According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, the Keystone state has seen a 6% increase in registered young voters than four years ago. Over a quarter-million of the bloc have voted early in this state

Has any politician done enough for young voters?

The results may seem strange from a glance, but the former vice president has done more to draw in young voters than Clinton did in 2016. Her outreach to the demographic is famously summed up when she told college students in Virginia to “Pokemon Go to the polls.”

Biden has adopted some progressive proposals thanks to the Task Forces he formed with Sanders. The presidential candidate has also picked a mixed-race woman as his running mate, who happens to be one of the most liberal voting senators in the country. 

Specifically relating to the year's center-stage issues, he has passed the low bar that Trump has not. Biden has acknowledged the calls for massive criminal justice reform after the death of George Floyd, which propelled some of the largest demonstrations since the Civil Rights Era

On the COVID-19 pandemic, he has held a consistent message of listening to the public health experts over politicians. 

To get a better insight into how America’s youth perceives this year’s Democratic ticket, AL DÍA News spoke with two college students of color from Philadelphia voting in this year’s election. 

Marquis Fountain, 19, is a longtime West Philadelphia resident currently studying journalism at Temple University. He says that the primary reason he participates in the electoral process this year is getting President Trump out of office.

This is the first election of any kind that Fountain is participating in, and he spoke about the issues that are on the ballot for Black Americans and Biden’s record with the community. 

The state of the former vice president’s campaign was looking bleak after the first three primary contests earlier this year. Then, Black voters came out in droves to support him in South Carolina. 

But in May, he had an interview with Charlamagne Tha God, where he made a controversial statement directed towards Black voters. 

“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black,” he said. 

Fountain commented on the tone-deafness of the Democratic candidate’s outreach strategy. 

“To say that is stupid given the number of Black conservatives. Most of the Black people you meet are either Christian or Muslim, and some hold different values from the Democratic party. That’s why they chose one of the most conservative candidates for the nomination, and I am more or less an outlier,” he said. 

It may seem unthinkable, but it is a reality. Despite antagonizing Black Lives Matter, Trump has made some marginal gains with Black voters. In 2016, only 3% of them voted for him, but recent polls show that 5% intend to vote for the president, and 11% have a favorable opinion.  

Faith could also play a role in how they vote because Black Americans are the most religious racial group in the country, with 83% being certain of their belief in God, according to Pew Research

This could explain the generational divide among Black voters. The older segment is used to Southern Democrats in the style of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. At the same time, younger voters, like Fountain, are increasingly agnostic and were energized by the progressive Sanders campaign.

Although Fountain was a Sanders supporter, he enjoyed seeing the diversity in the Democratic primary field in this cycle. He views figures like Andrew Yang and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg as the Democratic party's future leaders. 

“It would be smart if Biden included them in his administration… it would be a good move on his part. You need to start bringing in the youth because the moderate old guard of the party is going to die out soon,” he said. 

Leftists have been critical of Biden for writing the 1994 Crime Bill, which was responsible for an uptick in the mass incarceration of people of color for minor drug crimes. 

The West Philadelphia resident has seen the impact of this bill firsthand in his own neighborhood but gave an objective view of how it came to be. 

“Biden may have authored the Crime Bill, but a lot of hands were on it, even Sanders voted for it. It was a unilaterally bad decision, but I don’t think anyone at the time knew how detrimental it would be,” Fountain expressed. 

Senator Sanders, who was in the House at the time, denounced the bill's over-policing aspect but said he voted for it because of the inclusion of the Violence Against Women Act. 

The Crime Bill continues to taint the former Delaware Senator’s record, but in his recent ABC News town hall, he recognized it was a “mistake” and that the criminal justice system should be changed “from punishment to rehabilitation,” 

The Temple student also voiced that if  Biden is elected, he will not only have to undo the wrongs of the Crime Bill but make good on criminal justice overall. He noted that the Democratic candidate should remember Black Lives Matter formed in 2014 when he was vice president. 

Fountain believes that plans such as the federal legalization of recreational marijuana and the redirecting of some police funds to public schools and youth programs to keep kids out of crime could go a long way. 

Aiden Davis-Davis, 19, is from Northeast Philadelphia and is studying communication at La Salle University. The proud Puerto Rican voter says that issues motivating him to participate in this presidential election are the Supreme Court's balance and the climate crisis. 

He was concerned with how Justice Amy Coney Barrett was rushed through a confirmation hearing so close to a presidential election.  

Barrett is replacing the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a liberal and feminist icon. She is also Trump’s third successful nomination to the nation’s highest court, giving conservatives a six to three majority.

Davis-Diaz believes that Americans were done a disservice with Justice Barrett’s confirmation because she will be on the bench for life despite not sharing the views of most.

“She doesn’t line up with the values of the majority of the people in the U.S. The majority of people did not want her to be rushed through. This was another example of Trump dividing the country,” Davis-Diaz said. 

If Biden wins, the LaSalle student would like to see him propose some ideas to counteract the recent appointment. He is open to a president Biden adding more justices to the Supreme Court. 

FiveThirtyEight took the average of 12 trusted polls and found that 52% of Americans wanted the 2020 election winner to pick the justice that would fill Ginsburg’s vacancy. 

On climate change, Davis-Diaz says that it should be the issue that every voter considers when they cast their ballot because everyone will be impacted by it. 

“If Donald Trump stays in office, he will continue to do nothing on this. He is speeding up the process by taking away restrictions on oil companies. Climate should be treated as the biggest issue overall,” he expressed.

The young voter also voiced that the U.S. cannot wait until after another term of Trump to act on this crisis because models that predict the globe has only years to prevent irreversible damage to our ecosystem. 

He specifically pointed to a projection by Harvard scientist James G. Anderson, which estimates that Earth only has five years to mitigate these effects. 

President Trump has undone much of the work of the Obama administration on climate change. He pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord and rolled back regulations on methane emissions earlier this year, even though the oil and gas industry opposed it. 

Yale’s Center for Environmental Communication released an article that explains the general correlation between rising global temperatures and the frequency and intensity of hurricanes. 

This makes the climate crisis personal to Davis-Diaz, who has family on the island of Puerto Rico who were impacted by tropical storms like Hurricane Maria. 

“It is an absolute disgrace for Trump to come out and say that he’s ‘the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico’ There was a plan in place to give aid to the island after the storm hit, but Trump held up much of it because he said he couldn’t trust the leaders on the island. On top of this, he went there and threw paper towels at people like they were animals,” he said. 

President Trump last commented on being “the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico” at a White House press conference in September after announcing a $13 billion aid package for the island to repair its electrical and educational infrastructure. 

The plan was publicized 46 days before the election, and three years after the category four storm hit the U.S. territory. 

Davis-Diaz believes that if Biden wins, he should allow Puerto Rico to hold a referendum on whether they want to become a U.S. state or an independent country because their status as a territory makes them unable to file for bankruptcy. 

“Puerto Rico is struggling with so much debt to the point where they cannot provide essential goods to its people, but Donald Trump can file for bankruptcy plenty of times,” he expressed.

Trump has filed four business bankruptcy claims for casinos he owned in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  

The Biden campaign has not addressed Puerto Rico statehood on their campaign website, but he plans to alleviate some of their debt burdens

Trusting the electoral process

President Trump has repeatedly made false statements about mail-in voting, saying it will lead to massive fraud in favor of Democrats. 

More Americans than ever before will be using the alternative voting method because the current administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it unsafe for millions to vote in person. 

At the time of writing, there are over 9.28 million cases of the virus and more than 231,000 deaths. 

Despite this, Trump has tried to make many voters afraid of casting a mail-in ballot. Aside from saying it will lead to fraud, GOP mega-donor Louis DeJoy is the U.S. Postal Service's current head. 

DeJoy contributed over $1.2 million to the Trump Victory Fund, and he has significant financial ties to companies that contract with or compete with the USPS. 

It is because of these factors that Fountain decided to vote in person on Election Day. 

“I decided to vote in person because Trump has been doing everything to discredit our mailing system. I’m not going to leave my vote up to chance. There’s a worry that he’s going to do whatever he can to remain in office,” he said. 

Davis-Diaz voted by mail weeks before the election, but even he expressed a level of concern with the electoral process. 

“I voted a while ago, but I was skeptical of the process. I felt reassured when I got confirmation three days later that my ballot was received. If I were to cast my ballot right now and mail it in, I would definitely be worried,” he explained.

VP Kamala Harris 

The college students had differing opinions on Senator Harris, who was selected to be Biden’s running mate. 

Harris has been criticized for her criminal justice record when she was San Francisco’s District Attorney and California’s Attorney General. Since being in the Senate, she has co-sponsored progressive policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. 

She would be the first female vice president and the first mixed-race person to hold the position. Harris was born to an Indian mother and a Jamaican father.

Davis-Diaz believes that this makes her a great choice because she represents many Americans.

“She speaks to the diversity of the U.S. because our families all came from somewhere else … Her selection as VP will be an example for people of color because it will show them they can do the same things old white men have been doing for centuries,” he explained.

Biden will be 78 on inauguration day if he becomes president. He has hinted at only serving one term or being a “transitional president.” Still, there is a genuine possibility that Harris could step into the role of the presidency sooner than 2024. 

Fountain is doubtful about having Harris be the future of the Democratic party.  

“I know she has a lot of experience in government, but she is not who I would want to be president. If Biden were to pass, she would make a good stop-gap, but Democrats know that the first term is planned to prepare her to run in 2024. Young people will turn out for her because there is no alternative,” he expressed. 

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