College students, grandmothers and immigrants: These are the faces of first-time voters

Beth Greenfield
·Senior Editor
·6-min read
Early voters have been turning out in droves — and for many, this is their first time casting a ballot. (Photo: Getty Images)
Early voters have been turning out in droves — and for many, this is their first time casting a ballot. (Photo: Getty Images)

Teslyn Nicole De Leon, 18, felt an “absolute thrill” while casting her ballot early in Texas recently. But what made the moment even more memorable for this first-time voter, she shared on Instagram and elaborated on for Yahoo Life, was that she went with another, very special, first-time voter: her grandmother.

“My grandmother legally immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines with two suitcases and $20 and built the family that I so proudly love,” De Leon, a student at the University of Texas, captioned the recent photo of them together. “I can’t thank her enough for the life she has given me.”

While De Leon was motivated to hit the polls by her “civic duty” and “incredulous excitement” over finally being of voting age, her grandmother, she tells Yahoo Life, “hadn’t voted because she had never felt knowledgeable enough to vote, because she hadn't spoken much English and because she is a native Filipina. This year, she felt compelled by her extensive knowledge… She knew exactly how she felt and knew it was time to vote.”

De Leon and her grandmother are far from alone: With nearly half of U.S. states offering early voting in the 2020 general election, social media has been bursting with images of people on long lines and at ballot boxes for at least a week now, a trend that has continued throughout Election Day. And many of the posts are from first-time voters, casting their ballots at what looks to be very high rates — and according, at least, to TargetSmart, a Democratic political data firm, which cites evidence of a “first-time voter surge.”

A teenage first-time voter in Louisville, Ky., Michael Daniels, headed to the polls with panache: He arrived dressed as Alexander Hamilton, which got him some adoring attention in the local press, as well as on Twitter:

Over on Instagram, the “first-time voter” hashtag brings up a scroll of proud voters, of all ages, some posted by parents or children or spouses of the first-timers, others discussing how being a first-time voter was the reward of becoming a naturalized citizen.

“My mom immigrated from Colombia in the early ‘80s when she was 15. She became a citizen at that time, but throughout the years, she never felt compelled to vote,” Libia Marqueza Castro tells Yahoo Life about her Instagram post of her mom as a first-time voter. “Politics were pretty far removed from her lived experience. This year, however, she’s been paying extra attention because of COVID (she’s an elementary school teacher) … and one day she texted me that she had enough of the tontería (ridiculousness)… she feels like she’s actually doing something to change what she’s seeing unfold on TV, especially since she lives in Texas.”

“I always thought it was an insignificant process, but after using my rights to vote, I feel so empowered, motivated, and beyond blessed. I know, corny right,” wrote Georgia teen Fadlyna about going to vote for the first time with her mother, a breast cancer survivor. “But it does feel like you made an impact when you do something you are only able to do when you grow up.”

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#firsttimevoter#firsttimevoting#vote

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A woman who says she immigrated from Jamaica posted about voting for the first time since becoming a naturalized citizen in 2014. “I honestly was nervous about it and putting it off,” she shared. “I really didn’t know what I was doing but I read the instructions and followed the directions. I don't know if my choices [were] right or wrong but I was just proud that I participated.”

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Colored folks, Females did you vote? I am a #bornJamaican which makes me an #immigrant. I've lived in the United States since 1990. Decided to become a citizen in 2014 got #neutralized and earned my #citizenship and Today I exercised my rights and privilege as a #citizen #female #blackwoman and #voted for the #firsttime #youngvoters #firsttimevoter I honestly was nervous about it and putting it off. I really didn't know what I was doing but I read the instructions and followed the directions. I don't know if my choices was right or wrong but I was just proud that I participated. A lady on the line said to me that it was good to see young colored folks voting. She then said there was a time when females couldn't vote so now every election she votes. I told her that I was a first time voter and I really didn't know what party I was. She congratulated me and said your best option will be to select Republican all the way down. It only makes Sense Lol.. 👍 So I then asked her since I'm pregnant will my vote be counted as two person votes. She had a laugh. I said but wouldn't it make sense 😃. If you live in a big city it will make sense to go prepared. I heard the lines and wait is usually long so I went with snacks, a book, and my little squat box. Everyone admired it and thought it was so smart as I was seated my whole wait But it was quick , simple and easy. Make some effort to vote.

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Reggie Gipson, aka DJ Thrillz, a YouTube personality with 1.23K subscribers, shared, “Never Really Cared For Politics, Until This Election! First Time Voting! Go Vote!

As part of a series on first-time voters in Virginia, the non-profit Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism (VCIJ) featured Joseph Kilburne, 18, who said, “I think voting is important because there are a lot of people that can't vote,” as well as TeQuanna McLendon, 24, who said, “It's a very important election this time and people fought for our right to vote so I probably should.” Ayana Tillery, 19, told the VCIJ, “If you care about what's going on in the world, then that should be enough for you to vote.

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First-time Voter Joseph Kilburne, 18, on why he is voting this year: I think it's partly just because I've been raised to understand issues and to educate myself on those issues. And I believe that there are some things that need to be changed and I believe that as someone who can vote, I can help those changes happen. I feel I'm most passionate about things like healthcare for everyone that needs it, racial injustices, and equality for everyone. I like to look on news sources and on things like social media posts. And then I go and fact check them myself and see if there are multiple things saying that exact same thing. So I know I'm getting correct information and all the information, and I like to look at different viewpoints so I can get both sides of it and make my decisions based off that. I think voting is important because there are a lot of people that can't vote. And a lot of the time, those people that can't vote, can’t because of things like voter suppression, and they're the ones that need that vote to be able to help change what they need. Um, and it's a responsibility of a citizen of the United States to be able to vote so that they can implement the things that need to be implemented or implement the things that need to be changed. I just believe that everyone has a right to get what they need and what they think is right. And everyone has a voice and deserves to have that voice be heard. #firsttimevoter #makingtheirvoicesheard photo by @ctyree

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In Minnesota, Brenda Valerro noted, “GUYS I FEEL LIKE A CHILD I’M SO HAPPY,” alongside a photo of herself holding her red “I Voted” stickers, while Madison, of California, and Penny, of Queens, N.Y., by way of Texas and Taiwan, also shared proud, sticker-boasting moments.

And in New York City, model Daniella Salvi summed up her first trip to the polls by sharing a link to I Will Vote and by noting, simply, “Voting is hot.”

To find out information about your local Election Day polling location, visit IWillVote.com.

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